Josefov is Prague's former Jewish ghetto and was named after the emperor Josef II, whose reforms helped to ease living conditions for the Jewish. It is located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River.
This quarter in Prague contains the most well-preserved Jewish historical monuments in Europe. Wandering along this part of town you will come across six synagogues, a Jewish Town Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is considered one of the most remarkable burial grounds of its kind in Europe.
Josefov had its own townhall. It was built originally the Maisel in the XVI century, and later rebuilt in baroque style. Ferdinand III granted a right to add a belfry for the Jews' role in repulsing Swedish forces that besieged Prague in 1682.
As noted above, Josefov was rebuilt at the end of XIX century and beginning of XX century with apartment blocks in the eclectic and vigorous style of the day. Many still need restoration, but they never fail to inspire you with the imagination of its architects and skill of their builders.
The Jews used to be allowed burial only here, and the overcrowding of headstones leads to a strange and eerie site. The oldest headstone dates from the XV century. Cemetery is located next to Pinkasova synagogue which houses a Holocaust memorial and museum.
This is IMO the most beautiful synagogue in Josefov, built in mid-XIX century in the Moorish revival style and located on Shiroka street. It is simply splendid inside, but unfortunately photos were not allowed. It is decorated in gold and dark red with stained glass windows. There is a small museum inside, and you can see on the combined Jewish museum ticket.
This is the oldest funcioning synagogue in Europe, built in the XIII century. You can purchase a ticket to see it at the front entrance. Interior is not spectacular in terms of decoration, but manages to impress you with its atmosphere; sadly, photos were not allowed inside. It is located next to the Jewish townhall.
Parizska street is the main avenue of Josefov connecting Staromestske Namesti to the Letna bridge. It is not very long, and many buildings are still in need of restoration, but it still does not fail to impress.
The turn-of-the-century apartment blocks built in the imaginative and vigorous style have turrets, and other decorations. The street level is lined with expensive boutiques and restaurants.
Josefov is the ancient Jewish neighborhood of Prague, named so after emperor Joseph who legislated many liberties to the hitherto persecuted Jewish minority in the city. Josefov had its own cemetery, numerous synagogues, even its own townhall. Famous writer Kafka, a Jew himself, was born here in a house next to the St Nicholas church.
At the end of the XIX century with the emancipation many Jews began to move out from here, since the area was by then overcrowded and often unsanitary. This led to most of the residential blocks leveled and replaced with the Art Moderne apartment blocks, each with turrets and vigorous decorations. The main thoroughfare is Parizska street which starts from Staromestske Namesti and is lined with very expensive boutiques and restaurants.
During German occupation the Jewish population was decimated, both in Josefov and elsewhere in Prague and Czechoslovakia. Most were forcibly removed to the Terezin camp (halfway between Prague and Dresden) and then to death camps. Only a small Jewish community now exists in Prague.
There are several synagogues, restored and housing museums (the best being IMO in Maiselova). The best museum is in M The Jewish cemetery is definitely worth a visit for its atmosphere. You can see the cemetery and most other sites on a combined ticket purchased in Maiselova sinagogue. The only site not included is the Staronova synagogue which requires a separate ticket.
The two images provided indicate a map of the Jewish Quarter and a key to the featured locations.
Prague Jewish live has been characterized by repeated persecutions. Periodically, Jewish civil rights were severely and increasingly limited. They were forced to live in a swampy area near the Old Town Square, the first ghetto. In 1389, nearly the entire population of 3000 was killed. The 15th Century Hussite wars brought increasing business restrictions and payments for protection. During the 16th Century Prague Renaissance, certain limited rights were granted by the Hapsburgs as the Jewish population assumed a greater role in business. The population swelled as immigrants from other countries arrived. Twice in this century, the Jews were expelled from Prague but then allowed to return. In the early 18th Century Prague had the largest Jewish population in the world.
The tolerant Josef II issued the Edict of Toleration in 1781. Religious freedoms were granted and Jews were allowed to participate in all forms of business and culture. In gratitude, the Jewish ghetto was named Josefov. Jewish life prospered for a prolonged period. In the late 19th Century the overcrowded ghetto was demolished and new streets and buildings created. The only remaining structures are those synagogues and the cemetary forming the Jewish Museum today.
In March 1939, Germany occupied Czech lands. At least two thirds of the 55000 Prague Jews perished during the Holocaust. Life under the Communist regime was no better, with absence of freedom for all. In 1989, Czech reforms led to the fall of Communism. Today only 1700 Jews live in Prague and there is only one rabbi in the entire country.
Prague is filled with Jewish historical sites under the supervision of the Jewish Museum. Over 140000 documents and artifacts are on display. Many were gathered by the Nazis as part of a plan for a "Museum of an Extinct Race". Included are artifacts from Terezin, including the heartbreaking drawings of the children imprisoned there.
The area of the Jewish quarter dates back to the 11th century. Over the years, Prague had one of Europes largest Jewish communities, with many Jewish synagogues in this area. Prior to WWII, the Jewish population in Prague was close to 120k, which is now closer to 8k.
Josefov was probably one of the most interesting areas in Prague for me. It was named after Joseph II, who partially relaxed the opression of the Jews in Prague in 1784. It was officially incorporated as a part of Prague in 1850 and shortly after the authorities completely revamped the area, as the slums were extremely unsanitary. The town hall, several synagogues and the Jewish cemetary were saved during the reconstruction.
The Old New Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Europe. Constructed around 1270 it miraculously survived fires, reconstruction of the area, many pogroms and the destruction of WWII. It has always provided a refuge for Jews through out the centuries.
Jewish Cemetary is definitely beyond creepy. The only burial ground allowed for Jews for more than 300 years, it is believed to be the final resting place of approximately 100,000 people. Gravestones are one on top of the other and it all really leves a very unsettling feeling. As you walk the tourist path you can't help but think that you are walking over bodies covered by the ground years ago. Also included is the ceremonial building that was used to prepare the dead for burial ceremonies.
Spanish Synagogue is a beuatifully decorated building, most definitely worht a look. It looks a lot like Alhambra in Spain, hence the name. This building dates from the second half of the 19th century.
The Jewish Quarter or Josefov is a popular tourist destination in Prague due to its central location and unique history. Though much of the original town was redeveloped from 1893-1913, the key sites remain including 6 synagogues, the cemetery and the town hall. The Jewish Museum maintains the following sites: Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Ceremonial Hall. The confusingly named Old-New Synagogue is open to the public, but is run by the local Jewish community. The 6th Synagogue, called the High Synagogue, is an active synagogue, closed to the public.
The Old-New Synagogue was built in the 1200s and is the oldest preserved synagogue in central Europe. It is still in use today.
The Pinkas Synagogue was completed in 1535 next to the Jewish cemetery. This synagogue contains the names of some 80,000 Jews who were killed by the Nazis.
The Maisal Synagogue was built from 1590 to 1592. It was virtually destroyed by fire in 1689 but was rebuilt in its current style from 1893 to 1905.
The Klausen Synagogue was built in 1604 and houses an exhibition on Jewish customs and traditions.
The Spanish Synagogue was constructed in 1868 in a Moorish style and contains Islamic motifs throughout the interior. It was built by Spanish Jews who settled the area.
The High Synagogue was originally built in 1568 but was rebuilt in 1883 after being destroyed by fire. It is not open to the public.
Ceremonial Hall was completed in 1912 and was once the mortuary for the Jewish Cemetery.
The Jewish Cemetery contains the graves of about 100,000 people buried in as many as 12 layers!
The Jewish Town Hall was built in 1765 and is the center of Prague's Jewish community today.
During my visit I wanted to view the temples, but the exorbitant entrance fees turned me away. To visit all the areas of the Jewish Museum cost 300 CZK per person (13 USD) and the Old-New Synagogue attempts to charge 200 CZK per person (9 USD).
The Northern part of the Stare Mesto, Old Town, is completely different from the south. The Jewish Quarter, called Josefov, is an area with much fewer tourists, wider streets and of course with several Jewish mainattractions.
In the 19th century Josefov was a maze of little streets and alleys, where it always was crowded with people. The quarter was dark, humid and unhealthy, was a centre of trade and was full of poverty.
At the end of the 19th century though, the richer class of Prague, that became rich because of the Industrial Revolution, started to move into Josefov. With their money the quarter was completely demolished and rebuilt in 1896. Only six out of the nine synagoges and the Jewish Cemetary were spared. The new quarter was built with wide, strait streets, high buildings modern styles and does not look like the ancient Josefov at all. The centre is around the Parizska street, surrounded by synagoges.
On our Grand Walk tour we spent some time in the Jewish Quarter and were told of the early days when the Jews were restricted to this area and had an identification mark on their clothing. We saw the Synagogues which were built many hundreds of years ago, however some do not hold services anymore as the Jewish population pre World war 2 was 120,000 and during the war 80,000 were killed whilst most of the survivors migrated to other parts of the world. There are approximately 8,000 Jews in Prague today but they do not live in this area. We saw the elevated cemetry and other old buildings. This area also has many fine buildings.
We spent most of the second day of our trip exploring Josefov, Prague's Jewish quarter. It was freezing cold outside at the time so we were lucky that most of our time was spent inside the synagogues rather than wandering the streets.
Josefov is a small area above between Stare Mesto (Old Town) and the river. Most of the sights are clustered around a small area near around Siroka and Maiselova. There are a number of synagogues worth visiting and seeing them all takes the best part of a day. We bought one ticket which covered entry into all the synagogues (except the Old-New one) as well as the Jewish cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall for 300 Koruny (about 10 Euro).
The first we visited, the Pinkas Synagogue, contains a chilling memorial to the 80,000 Czech Jews killed in the holocaust. The names of each victim, their date of birth and the day they died (or were taken away), is written on the walls of each room in the building. Upstairs there is an exhibition of pictures drawn by children in the ghetto of Terzin. Most of these children would later die in concentration camps.
A walk through the cemetery is perhaps not the best thing to do after the Pinkas synagogue but it adjoins the synagogue and leads to the Klaus synagogue. The exhibition in here was, for me, the least interesting one we saw, concentrating on Jewish religious practices. Next door is the ceremonial hall which contains an exhibiton on Jewish burial and death.
The Spanish synagogue and the Maisel synagogue were the most interesting with the Spanish being my favourite on account of the amazing Moorish design of the interior, a desing not too common in synagogues I would imagine. The history of the Czech Jewish community is covered in exhibitions within the synagogues with the Maisel concentrating on history up to 1848 while the Spanish synagogue takes you from there up to the present day.