Josefov (Prague Jewish Quarter)

Horrifically ironically saved by Hitler as a “Museum of an Extinct Race”, Prague’s Jewish Quarter (Josefov) gives a unique insight into nearly a thousand years of Jewish life in the centre of Europe. The Prague Jewish Ghetto was formed in the 13th century when Jews were ordered to only live in one part of the city. Despite the destruction of many buildings at the start of the 20th century a number of the key synagogues and the cemetery survived.

They can all (other than the nearby Jubilee Synagogue) be visited as part of a single ticket for a memorable if popular exploration of Jewish history. Recommend starting your visit as soon as the buildings open at 9am. Reversing the recommended order of visits I avoided the tour groups for about half an hour…

The Spanish Synagogue is quite incredible, a Moorish Revival style building opened in 1868 with the most wonderfully intricate and hypnotic design.

The neighbouring R. Guttmann Gallery is used for temporary exhibitions, in this case artwork relating to Franz Kafka, who was born in Josefov.

The Old-New Synagogue is a complete contrast to the Spanish Synagogue, the oldest active synagogue in Europe, dating back to 1270, with a double nave and vaulted bays, and an unusual exterior.

The Ceremonial Hall is newer than it looks, built in 1912 in neo-Romanesque style, now used as a museum.

The Pinkas Synagogue has also been repurposed, as a memorial to the 78,000 Czech Jewish victims of the Holocaust, whose names and dates are painted on the walls. It’s shocking that these seemingly endless lists of names only represent a fraction of the total number of victims of Nazi Germany.

Next to the Pinkas Synagogue is the Old Jewish Cemetery which dates from the 15th to 18th centuries. Due to a shortage of space there are up to twelve layers of burials, with overlapped tombstones on the surface, and the cemetery surface is several metres higher than the surrounding streets.

Nearby the Klausen Synagogue is now the largest active synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.

The 16th century Maisel Synagogue is now a museum, home to an interesting exhibition on the history of Jews in Prague.

Finally a short walk away is the colourful Jubilee Synagogue, built in 1906 in Moorish Revival and Art Nouveau style, which is almost too much. It’s certainly eye catching!

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