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Prague’s Synagogues

The Old-New Synagogue

Known as the oldest synagogue in Europe, this building dates back to the late 13th century and was at one point the Jewish community’s main place of worship.  In addition to being an important site, it is also one of the most beautiful buildings in Prague.  The building has a doubled-naved hall divided by pillars above which rests a unique five ribbed vaulting.  The pulpit stands in the center of the synagogue behind an iron grille from the 15th century.  It is also surrounded by pews for high members of the Jewish community.  One of the seats is graced by the Star of David where it is said the legendary Rabbi Low used to sit.  The five books of Moses, known as the Torah rests in the bimah which faces east.  The building was not always as it is today.  In the 14th century, an entrance hall was added housing treasuries for tax collectors.  To go from the entrance hall into the main hall, one passes underneath a relief made up of leaves and grapes.  The twelve branches symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel sprouting from one bush.  The synagogue is also home to numerous legends and is the only synagogue in Prague where there are still services taking place.

Old New Synagogue

The High Synagogue

Located directly across from the Old-New Synagogue, it was build at the same time as the Jewish Town Hall in the late 16th century.  At one point the two buildings were joined thanks to an entrance on the first floor, but it has been bricked up since the end of the 19th century.  It also used to be a place for those in the Jewish community to meet, but it now uses as an exhibition hall housing textiles from the Jewish Museum.

 

The Klaus Synagogue

This synagogue is a public building which gets its name from three smaller buildings called klauses from which it is made.  One of these buildings housed the famous Talmudic School, the second was a synagogue and the third was a hospital.  The interior of the building is made up of gorgeous stucco work and contains a cylindrical vaulting with four pairs of lunettes.  Today, the synagogue houses the exhibition of Hebrew prints and manuscripts tracing the history of the Jews in Europe all the way back to the Middle Ages.  There are many legends surrounding the building including one that says angels carried the stones which make up the building and have protected it ever since including its survival through two fires.

 

The Pinkas Synagogue

Named for the rabbi who established it, this synagogue dates back to the 15th century.  Today, it is dedicated to Bohemian and Moravia Jewish victims of the Holocaust.  The interior contains the names of 77,297 who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis.  Over its lifetime, the building has been rebuilt several times thanks to numerous floods.

 

The Maisel Synagogue

This synagogue was built by Mordechai Maisel as a private place of worship.  Maisel was the head of the Jewish community at the time and as a result was granted special permission to build the synagogue by the emperor.  Because Maisel was one of the richest people in the time, he not only built the synagogue, but also paved the streets of Jewish Town and enlarged a hospital.  At one point, it was the largest synagogue in Prague, but gets its current look from a facelift in the 19th century.  While the region was under Nazi occupation, the synagogue stored stolen Jewish property and today it houses numerous objects from the Jewish museum.

 

The Old Jewish Cemetery

Located next to the Klaus Synagogue it is of great importance but it is not known exactly when the cemetery was established.  The cemetery is now closed, but the oldest headstones date back to 1439 and is also the final resting place of Avigdor Kara who lived in 1389.  From then, it was in use until 1787. Because the Jewish community only had one cemetery for use, it quickly ran out of room and the Jews had to begin burying people on top of one another in layers.  It is now estimated that there are 80,000 graves in twelve layers under a total of twelve thousand headstones.  Many of those gravestones not only show the deceased person’s name, but also share some facts about them as well.  Many of them have emblems symbolizing different clans, occupations and names.  Unlike other Jewish cemeteries, this one does hold reliefs depicting human forms.  These are not often found because of the holy law which says that the depiction of peoples is an arrogant attempt to imitate God’s work.  As a result, there are a few imperfections which have allowed the artists to get around the law.

Old Jewish Cemetery

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Petřín Hill

Only a stone throw away from the Prague Castle is Petřín Hill; perfect for a summer walk away from the bustle of tourists. Part of the land is set aside for an apple and a pear orchard from which the fruit can be freely picked from the trees. Much of the stone sed in building the major sights in Prague was quarried out of Petrin, however today this is not noticeable beneath the trees and gardens.