Anyone who visits Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, knows how captivating it really is. The Old World charm and its history are both fascinating and bewitching – especially Prague’s Jewish Quarter. Learn about its history and use this guide to know which sites to see and things to do in Prague’s Jewish quarter.  

Guide to Prague’s Jewish Quarter

What is a Jewish Quarter

Many cities used to have, or still have Jewish quarters. As early as the 13th century, Jewish people (or slang Jews) were ordered to settle into one area of Prague (referred to as the Jewish ghetto).

The Jewish area in Prague is a must-see due to its history, but also because it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visiting this Jewish town within Prague is not only a reminder of a tragic part of the world’s history but also of its undeniable beauty and charm.

Where is Prague’s Jewish Quarter

The Prague Jewish Quarter is situated between Old Town and the Vltava River, on the right bank.  

History of the Jewish Quarter in Prague

The name of the quarter “Josefov” or city of Joseph comes from the name of Emperor Joseph II, whose reforms improved the living conditions of Jews in Prague. 

The history of Jews in Prague dates back to the 10th century. Josefov appeared in Prague in 1850, during the transformation, when the Prague Jewish ghetto officially became one of the administrative quarters of the city. The Austrian Emperor Joseph II issued decrees on equalizing the rights of Jews with the Christian population.

Most of the Jewish Quarter was demolished between 1893 and 1913 only to be rebuilt and modelled after the city of Paris. It was only six synagogues, an old cemetery, and an old Jewish town hall that were kept intact. These original buildings, saved from demolition, now make up part of the Jewish Museum in Prague, which is considered one of the oldest Jewish museums in Europe.

The Golem of Prague Legend

In Jewish folklore (stemming from Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II time) a Golem is a clay statue brought to life by a human. There are different versions of the legend, whether it’s good or bad, but it does play an important role in symbolism in the Jewish community. 

Preservation of Prague’s Jewish Quarter

The Holocaust during World War II is one of Europe’s darkest periods in history. Despite the plan to remove all traces of the Jewish population, Adolf Hitler decided to preserve the Jewish Quarter. In doing so, a “Museum of Extinct Race” was created. By doing this, all most all of the historic buildings were saved in Prague from destruction during the war. As well, Nazis gathered Jewish artifacts from other occupied countries and sent them to Prague to add to the museum. 

This makes Prague’s Jewish Quarter an extremely rare and important part of our history. 

Top Historic Sites in Prague’s Jewish Quarter

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 forbid moving 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 Jewish Cemetery is one of the most important Jewish landmarks in the city. 

The Synagogues in the Jewish Quarter 

The Old New Synagogue is the oldest active 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. 

The Jubilee Synagogue is the largest, newest and some would say most elaborate synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. It is also referred to as the Jerusalem Synagogue.  

Town Hall

The Jewish Town Hall is located in the heart of the Prague Jewish Quarter. The former mayor, Mordechai Maisel, was instrumental in the design of the Jewish Quarter in Prague. One of those buildings under the sponsorship of Maisel was the Renaissance-style Old Town Hall in 1586. The building was the main meeting place of the local Jewish community. It will be hard to miss that the Town Hall features not one, but two clocks- one in roman numerals and the other in Hebrew numerals. 

Top Things to Do in the Jewish Quarter in Prague

Take a Guided Tour

Explore the heritage of Prague’s Jewish Quarter on a guided walking tour, including entrance tickets to the synagogues and Jewish cemetery. This is a skip-the-line access and will be a 2.5-hour tour, click here for more information.

Visit the Ceremonial Hall

The Ceremonial Hall is the former building of the ceremonial hall and morgue in the Old Jewish Cemetery. The striking building was built in the pseudo-Romanesque style in 1911-1912 by the architect Frantisek Gerstl. Today it’s an exhibition space for the Jewish Museum.

Stroll Parizska Street

Parizska Street, or Paris Street, resembles the Champs-Élysées in Paris with its long tree-lined boulevard with high-end shops. It runs through the Jewish Quarter, connecting the Old Town Square to the Charles Bridge. This part of the Jewish Quarter is a beautiful area to stroll due to its early 20th-century Art Nouveau buildings and pretty cafes, just like what you might find in Paris. 

Building with lamp in Prague’s Historical Quarters: Jewish Quarter

Visit Robert Guttmann Gallery

The Robert Guttmann Gallery features artwork by this artist and other Jewish artists from the 19th century and onward. With rotating collections the gallery aims to feature artwork from post-war to contemporary art.

Find the Franz Kafka Monument

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 Franz 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 other sculpture to seek out is the bronze sculpture of Moses (Socha Mojžíše), by Czech sculptor František Bilek. It can be found on Prague Street.

Prague’s Historic Quarters

Prague is actually made up of 5 distinct quarters. Each one features unique things to see. Beyond the Josefov or Jewish Quarter, be sure to visit the other 4 with the help of these guides. 

  1. Castle district (or Hradčany)
  2. Old Town (or Staré Město)
  3. Little Quarter (or Malá Strana)
  4. New Town (or Nové Město)

As a holidaymaker…

Visiting the small historic Jewish Quarter is one of the top things to do in Prague. Being one of the largest Jewish ghettos in Europe, it is also one of the most well-preserved. Visiting the 6 synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall, and the Jewish Museum is a must when in Prague. 

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26 Comments

  1. Thank you for an insightful and interesting read Renee. Especially interesting and somewhat ironic to read about Hitler’s influence on preserving the neighbourhood so it could be used as a museum. Wonderful photo’s and information about the cemetery, leaving small stones and notes. Many, many people were buried in one place for many years. I can appreciate the sense of eerieness, yet fascination.

  2. The Jewish Quarter in Prague is one of my favorite places. It is of great historical importance and has beautiful architecture, and there are far fewer tourists there than in other parts of Prague so that you can take a break from the crowds. Great tips on how to visit this district and beautiful pictures from this place.

  3. The Jewish quarter is one of the most interesting places in Prague, I think. We did a tour with a Jewish guide a few years ago and I found it so interesting, that I bought two different books about Jewish Prague. Especially the cemetery was impresive.

  4. This is a beautiful city, rich in history. Although I have never been there, I was fortunate enough to go on a virtual plague tour which incorporated a lot of history including that of the Jewish quarter. I found it fascinating.

  5. What an interesting neighbouhood in Prague! I had no idea about the Jewish Quarter but it’s a good thing that Hitler didn’t have it destroyed. All of the synagogues are beautiful and quite colorful too. It’s impressive to read about the oldest one, 1270 dates a long long time ago! On my list to visit!

  6. This was such a fascinating article! How ironic that this neighborhood was preserved by Hitler so that it could be used as a museum. And I loved learning about the cemetery – that’s so many people buried in one place!! Eerie but fascinating

  7. They have some very interesting statues! I remember the visit to the Old Jewish cemetery, very sad place. They didn’t allow photography of the artwork of the kids there, and I completely understand. One place I would want to visit again.

  8. I visited Prague just after the country opened to the West. It was wildly interesting… I remember wandering through the Old Jewish Cemetery and it was very moving, all these piled up graves with their little rocks wrapped in paper… It took me a while to understand the significance of the messages…

    1. Wow, I bet you would have a different experience now. Unfortunately Prague has been overrun by tourists. I’m glad you enjoyed visiting the cemetery as I did. Moving experience.

  9. We had a tour guide in Prague and we learned a little about the Jewish Quarter. But your blog post provides so much more detailed information. We are sorry we missed the cemetery. It is fascinating to see the history from the tombstones. We saw so much art when we walked the streets. But I guess we somehow missed the statue of Kafka. An interesting one for sure.

    1. Thank you for your comment Linda. I’m sorry that your tour didn’t provide you as much info as I shared. But hopefully it adds to your memories of your visit.

  10. I actually didn’t realise that Jewish people were ordered to live in a certain area way back then. I’m fascinated with the odd beauty of the graveyard. I really love the ancient tombstones that are a bit skew-whiff and set amongst the green forest, which seems to be kind of taking over. How awful to think that Hitler preserved the area to showcase an ‘extinct race.’ Just wow…

    1. Thanks for stopping by Emma, and for your thoughtful comment. This Quarter of Prague is such a historic and important part of our history and really a must-see when in the city.

    1. Thank you Karl for stopping by and commenting. You are right, the perfect historic neighbourhood to stroll and learn.

  11. How Cool! We visited a Jewish historical area in Bologna, Italy. So amazing how history can be preserved in little areas like this around the world.

  12. I love Prague! I actually took a tour around the Jewish Quarter and it was very interesting to learn about the community’s history. The area has such beautiful streets! Lovely post!

    1. Thank you for stopping by Maya and for your comment. I would like to have taken a tour, I’m sure it was interesting.

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