Prague was been known to have many nicknames. The ‘city of a hundred spires’, ‘the magic city’, ‘the mother of cities’, ‘the city with 100 bell towers’, ‘the golden city’; and the ‘heart of Europe’. Travel to Prague, and you will instantly understand why. It is a captivating city full of beautiful buildings and historical sites just waiting to be explored. This bohemian city sits on the hills alongside the Vltava River, and features a stunning skyline of Gothic spires. It is so photogenic with its cobblestone streets, red rooftops, extensive gardens and brightly coloured buildings.
Prague used to be known as the ‘Five Towns’, although it is divided into 10 separate districts, most visitors tend to concentrate on the five historic towns:
- Castle district (or Hradčany)
- Old Town (or Staré Město)
- Little Quarter (or Malá Strana)
- New Town (or Nové Město)
- Jewish Quarter (or Josefov)
This travel guide is part of a five-part series focusing on each of the five areas one at a time. It will highlight some of the area’s best of, so you won’t miss a thing. This is the last one of the series, focusing on the Jewish Quarter.
The History of the Jewish Quarter
Many cities used to have, or still have, Jewish quarters. Prague’s is situated between Old Town and the Vltava River. As early as the 13th century, Jewish people were ordered to settle into one area of Prague. The Jewish Quarter is a definite must see because it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is not only as a reminder of a tragic part of the world’s history, but also for its undeniable beauty and charm.
The Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery is the city’s oldest surviving Jewish burial ground. It dates back to the middle of the 15th century. Due to the fact that Jewish people were prohibited from burying their dead outside the Jewish Quarter, this graveyard is crammed with some 12,000 visible tombstones. It is estimated that there are 100,000 more bodies stacked up to 12 layers below ground.
The graves were never relocated because Jewish traditions dictate not to move bodies after they are buried. The settling of the ground over time has created lopsided tombstones pointing in every direction, a most surreal sight that casts an eerily, yet beautiful spell.
The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. It’s one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Prague, built in 1270.
The Pinkas Synagogue is the city’s second-oldest Jewish house of worship, dating back to the 1500s. It began as a private place of worship for the influential family, although it was later expanded to rival the Old-New Synagogue.
The Klausen Synagogue was founded in the 1690s. It sits on a site that was formerly occupied by a small Jewish school and prayer house (Klausen), in what was then a notorious red-light district of the Jewish Quarter.
The Spanish Synagogue got its name for its impressive Moorish interior design. It sits on the site of the city’s first synagogue, even though it is the most recent one, built in 1868.
The Neo-Gothic Maisel Synagogue was built at the end of the 16th century as a private house of prayer for the family of mayor Mordechai Maisel.
Why not join a tour and visit all of the Jewish Quarter’s synagogues.
Franz Kafka was born to a Czech-Jewish father and a German-Jewish mother. Kafka lived in the Old Town despite his Jewish heritage. As a German among Czechs, a Jew among Germans, and an agnostic among believers, Kafka lived a life of alienation and fear, which also reflects in his writings.
The Kafka Monument depicts Franz Kafka riding on the shoulders of a headless figure (presumably Kafka himself). This is in reference to the author’s 1912 story “Description of a Struggle”.
The Parizska Street
Parizska Street (or Paris Street) resembles the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It has the same long tree-lined boulevard with high-end shops. It runs through the Jewish Quarter, connecting the Old Town Square to the Charles Bridge. It’s a beautiful area to stroll due to its early 20th century Art Nouveau buildings.
I found so many cute Parisienne cafes and boutique shops that I almost felt I was transported to Paris for the afternoon.
Be sure to check out the other four historical areas within this blog series.