Friday Morning – Prague Old Town and Jewish Quarter

I do think that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It’s architecture, a mixture of Gothic, Baroque, Neo Classical and Art Nouveau  along with the odd more recent building could almost have been designed for a Walt Disney cartoon, only without the dysfunctional teenage girls and irritating anthropomorphic animals.

Not quite the house that Disney built

On the Friday morning we took a walk into the Old Town Square, where we had a coffee in the cafe opposite the Astronomical Clock of the Old Town Hall,

Prague Old Town Square and Astronomical Clock

On the hour the statues did their little dance for the crowds

Mechanical figures Astronomical Clock

Dancing Death, Astronomical Clock Prague

It was all over so quickly that some people were heard to say “Is that it?”, but perhaps that is a bit harsh on 15th Century technology. So show over we drank up and left for the Jewish Quarter. Now one of the things I have often said about London is that if you keep your eyes at ground level you will miss a lot of things worth seeing and this is certainly true of Prague too, where there are some really lovely bits of Art Nouveau decorative work to be seen overhead like this splendid window that I spied on the way.

Lovely Art Nouveau decorative work

Like many cities in eastern Europe before World war Two, Prague was once home to a thriving Jewish community. The community first became established in the 10th Century and despite many years of persecution, eventually became an important part of Prague’s cultural life following the reforms of the 18th and 19th Centuries. the Jewish quarter of Josefov dates from the 13th Century and is named after the Holy Roman Emperor Josef II (1765-1790) who enacted many of the reforms of the 18th century. We each bought a combined ticket which gave us access to a number of Synagogues and the Jewish Cemetery and Ceremonial Hall.

The Ceremonial Hall

The Spanish Synagogue dates back to 1868 and is built in the Moorish Revival style. The interior is an amazing confection of Islamic styled decoration on nearly every surface (unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures in any of the synagogues).  It’s also the home of Prague’s Jewish Museum, charting the community’s fascinating history. The Pinkas Synagogue is a memorial to the 77,297 Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War Two. Hauntingly empty inside it bears each of their names on its walls. There is also a display of child art from the Terezin Ghetto, where Czech Jews were held before being transported to the death camps – very very moving.

The Maisel Synagogue has a fine display of ceremonial silver, textiles and prints, but for me the most fascinating place was the Ceremonial Hall, which despite its Romanesque architectural style was only built in 1911. Originally a mortuary and ceremonial hall it now has a fascinating display on Jewish funerary customs.

Jewish Cemetery and Ceremonial Hall Prague

The Old Jewish Cemetery is Europe’s oldest. Dating from the early 15th century it is reckoned that over 100,000 people are buried there in fifteen layers, which is one of the reasons the level of the ground within its walls is so much higher than that of the street outside.

Not included in our ticket was the Old New Synagogue

 

Attic of the Old New Synagogue last resting place of the Golem of Prague

Built around 1270 it’s the oldest working synagogue in Europe as well as one of Prague’s oldest Gothic Buildings. It’s also said to be the last resting place of the Golem, a clay being created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to protect the Jews from persecution by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. When Rudolf gave in to Loew’s demands the Golem was deactivated by rubbing out the first letter of the word emet (meaning truth) from his forehead, the remaining word met being death. Loew is said to have stashed the remains in the synagogue’s attic, which is very definitely not open to the public.

One thought on “Friday Morning – Prague Old Town and Jewish Quarter

  1. Pingback: Lisbon – Europe’s Steampunk Central | shipscooksstuff

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