Josefov’s main attraction is the old Jewish ghetto, which remains one of the most remarkable sights in Prague. Although the warren-like street plan of the old ghetto was demolished in the 1890s to make way for streets of luxurious five-storey mansions, six synagogues, the Jewish town hall and the medieval cemetery still bear witness to the history. It is quite a small area spread around the old Town, bordering with the River and Paris (Pařížská) Street – the most expensive area in the whole of Prague dotted with top-brand boutique shops.
Josefov, formerly Jewish Town, came into being from a settlement of Jewish traders and moneychangers that was adjacent to the ancient ford over Vltava River on the north tip of the Slovanský ostrov (Slavic Island) which extended from a place presently opposite to the National Theater as far as Kaprova Street in the original riverbed of Vltava. Due to mediaeval anti-Semitism, the Town had firm ramparts with gates whose number totalled to seven in the year 1848. The Town was also self-governed with the Jews being direct serfs of the ruler. Life in this Town was very hard for most of the Jews for the reason of the impossibility to extend built-up area and of several deportations from Bohemia alone. This persisted until Joseph II, whose name the Jewish Town bears today granted the Town equal rights in his religious reforms in the second half of the 18th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the old buildings were redeveloped and thus Josefov fully merged with the surrounding Old Town. However, such remarkable historical monuments as the Old Jewish Cemetery and Old-New, Pinkas, Maisel’s, Klausova or Spanish synagogues were preserved.
The Jewish Town gives Prague yet another dimension which includes such names as Marek Mordechal Mayzl, a primate, Jakub Bassevi, a trader, Jehuda Low Ben Bezalel – the famous rabbi Low or Franz Kafka, a writer. This dimension undisputedly enhances Prague’s cultural fullness, whether in respect to trade, science, art or lifestyle.
Getting around Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter is quite a heavily visited location in Prague, especially in peak tourist season, when its tiny streets are packed with visitors. The area is quite small and very compact, and a fairly thorough tour should take less than half a day. Due to the proximity to the Old Town Square, the best way to visit is on foot.