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The Prague Jewish Quarter: A Complete Guide

The Prague Jewish Quarter (locally known as Josefov) is one of the most interesting places in the city.

It’s home to several stunning synagogues and a 15th-century cemetery. It’s also the birthplace of Franz Kafka and the Golem!

Here’s what you need to know about the Jewish Quarter in Prague, including a little bit of history and the best things to see.

A little bit about Josefov

Located in Prague’s Old Town, the neighbourhood of Josefov was once home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe.

The Prague Jewish Quarter.
The Prague Jewish Quarter. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

The first Jews came to Prague in the 10th century. During the pogrom of 1096, the Jewish community was concentrated within a walled area and a ghetto was created.

In 1389, around 1,500 Jews were killed in yet another pogrom. The city’s Jewish community continued to suffer injustices and attacks throughout the centuries, and during the Second World War, it was completely wiped out.

While Josefov has a dark and bloody past, there’s a mystical ambiance about this place. According to legend, this is where Rabbi Loew, a 16th-century Talmudic scholar and Jewish mystic, created the Golem.

At the time, the Jewish Quarter was one of the most prosperous neighbourhoods in Prague. The mayor, Mordecai Maisel, was a wealthy Jew who helped turn the ghetto into a hub of culture and spirituality.

Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, most of the buildings in the Jewish Quarter were demolished as part of a regeneration project. These were replaced by lavish apartments in the Art Nouveau style.

The Prague Jewish Quarter
Josefov. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

However, six of the synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Jewish town hall have survived. Today, most of these attractions are open to the public.

Prague Jewish Quarter tickets & opening hours

Most of the sites in the Prague Jewish Quarter are open every day except on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. The synagogues are typically open from 9.00 am till about 4.30 pm (though they close earlier during the winter months).

The Spanish Synagogue in Prague.
The Spanish Synagogue in Prague. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

There are three types of tickets you can get:

  • Old-New Synagogue: this gives you access to the oldest synagogue in Prague.
  • Jewish Museum: this ticket covers the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall, and most of the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter (except the Old-New Synagogue).
  • Prague Jewish Town: with this ticket, you’ll get access to the best attractions in the Jewish Quarter, including the main synagogues, the cemetery, and the ceremonial hall.

You can purchase your ticket from the the Spanish Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, or the Information and Reservation Centre. The Jewish Museum website contains more information about tickets and admission fees.

What to see in the Prague Jewish Quarter

Now, let’s look at the top attractions in the Prague Jewish Quarter. If you purchase the Prague Jewish Town ticket, you’ll be able to visit every place in this list.

1. The Old New Synagogue

The Old New Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Built in the late 1200s, it was one of the first Gothic buildings in Prague.

It’s characterised by beautiful stonework, wrought-iron chandeliers, and twin naves. There’s also a box for the Torah scrolls and a pulpit surrounded by a 15th-century grille.

According to legend, the attic of the synagogue harbours the remains of the Golem, the clay creature that was brought to life by the Rabbi Loew in order to protect the Jewish community of Prague.

2. The Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish Synagogue is one of the newest synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. Built in 1868, it features an intricate Moorish design, inspired by the Alhambra palace in Spain.

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The Spanish Synagogue. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

The synagogue houses an exhibition on Jews in Bohemia. It walks you through the history of the Jewish community in the region from the reign of Joseph II to the post-WW2 years.

As you explore this stunning synagogue, you’ll also get to learn about the redevelopment of the Jewish Quarter in Prague, and the Jewish figures that lived here, including Franz Kafka.

3. The Old Jewish Cemetery

The Jewish Cemetery in Josefov is one the oldest surviving Jewish burial grounds in the world. The earliest tombstone in the cemetery dates back to 1439.

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The Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Over the centuries, the Jewish community ran out of burial space. Bodies were buried on top of each other, resulting in several layers of graves.

There are around 12,000 tombstones in the cemetery, all jutting out at different angles like crooked teeth.

Some of the important figures buried here include the scholar Rabbi Roew and the Jewish mayor Mordecai Maisel.

4. The Ceremonial Hall

Next to the Old Jewish Cemetery you’ll find the Ceremonial Hall. Built in the early 1900s, it was mainly used for washing the bodies of the dead and preparing them for burial.

The Jewish cemetery in Josefov
The Ceremonial Hall. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Nowadays, the hall houses an exhibition on Jewish customs and traditions, including funerary rites. You can also see fragments of Prague’s oldest tombstones, which date back to the 14th century.

5. The Maisel Synagogue

Built in the 16th century, the Maisel Synagogue was originally a Renaissance temple with three naves. It’s named after Mordecai Maisel, the mayor of the Prague Jewish town.

Maisel synagogue has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. Today, it forms part of the Jewish museum in Prague, walking visitors through the history of Jews in Bohemia.

6. The Klausen Synagogue

Klausen Synagogue is the largest of its kind in the Prague Jewish Quarter. It was built after the ghetto fire of 1689, and used as the second main synagogue among the local community.

The Klausen Synagogue.
The Klausen Synagogue. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

If you want to learn more about Judaism, the Klausen synagogue offers an insight into the origins of this old religion.

You’ll get a close look at a Torah scroll and other sacred artefacts. Plus, you’ll find a lot of educational content on Jewish celebrations and customs, including bar mitzvah and marriage.

7. The Pinkas Synagogue

Built in 1535, the Pinkas Synagogue is the second oldest preserved synagogue in Prague.

Today, it serves as a memorial to the victims of the Shoah in the Czech lands. Around 80,000 names cover the walls of the synagogue, a stark reminder of the horrors that plague the Jewish community during the Holocaust.

There’s also an outdoor exhibition that documents the deportations of Jews from Bohemia and Moravia to the concentration camps in German-occupied territory.

You can also see drawings made by children incarcerated in Terezin. These pictures depict daily life in the ghetto and the persecution of Jews during the Nazi occupation.

The best Prague Jewish Quarter tours

If you have a keen interest in Judaism and the history of Jews in Bohemia, you might want to consider exploring the Jewish Town with a guide.

Let’s look at some of the best Prague Jewish Quarter tours.

Explore more Prague Jewish Quarter tours.

Frequently asked questions

What is the Jewish Quarter in Prague?

The Jewish Quarter in Prague (locally known as Josefov) is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. A former Jewish ghetto, this area is home to several beautiful synagogues and a very old cemetery.

Is the Jewish Quarter in Prague free?

You can roam around the Prague Jewish Quarter for free. However, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to visit the synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Ceremonial Hall.

How many synagogues are there in Prague?

Out of the many synagogues that once dotted the Jewish Quarter in Prague, only six remain. These are the Old New Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Maisel Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue, and the High Synagogue (this one is currently closed to the public).

How old is the Jewish cemetery in Prague?

The Jewish cemetery in Prague was founded in the 15th century. There are around 12,000 tombstones in the cemetery, with the earliest one dating back to 1439.

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