The Jewish Quarter - Josefov

Josefov, or the Jewish Quarter, has become somewhat of a tourist trap in recent years, but, in spite of that, it is an area of Prague which really should not be missed. Avoid the stalls selling "souvenirs" and buy the ticket which gives access to the synagogues, the Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, and you will find much of interest. A large part of the area was remodelled in the late 19th century, necessarily so, as the area was a warren of backstreets and alleyways of dubious character. The main road from Staromětské náměstí to Čechův Most, Pařížká třída, or Paris Avenue, became the centre of the urban renewal which took place. It is a fine, broad avenue of large apartment buildings, many with Art Nouveau facades. The smaller Maisel Street, which runs parallel to it, is now the real way into Josefov.

That the Jewish quarter survives at all is remarkable. The Nazi occupation during World War II resulted in the Jewish population being transferred to the new ghetto of Terezín, but Hitler had the perverse idea of preserving Josefov as a 'Museum to a Vanished Race'! One of the synagogues which can be visited now, contains a very moving collection of drawings by Jewish children from Terezín, many of whom really are a 'vanished race' in that all that remains of them are their drawings. The synagogue is also inscribed on all the downstairs interior walls with the names of Jews from Bohemia who perished in the Holocaust. Very moving.

The Old Jewish Cemetery is also quite an experience. In times past, the Jews were forbidden to extend their cemetery, so that the only recourse they had was to put more soil on top of the existing graves, and use the same area again. This was done several times, resulting in the ground being very much higher in the cemetery than surrounding streets,

the cemetery is higher than street level

and each time the gravestones were resited, so that they now look like a hotchpotch of stones obscuring each other. It really is quite moving to walk through the cemetery.

the Jewish cemeterythe gravestones are jumbled

The Ceremonial Hall, which is adjacent to the cemetery and Klausová synagóga, was built in 1906 by the Jewish burial society. It is the building with the round tower in this picture, while the synagogue is the building on the left.

the Ceremonial Hall of the Jewish Burial Society

The ticket gives access to the synagogues too, and there is much of interest in them, although, at the time of our visit, the Old-New Synogogue, the oldest one, was undergoing renovation. It is actually the oldest still-functioning synagogue in Europe. Next to the Old-New Synagogue stands the Jewish Town Hall, sporting a belfry with a clock face on each side, and an extra clock in Hebrew! As with Hebrew lettering, the clock also goes in the opposite direction to what you expect! Here is a photo of the town hall and you can click on it for a closer shot of the Hebrew clock.

the Jewish Town Hall