The Jewish Quarter (Josefov)
What would become known as Prague’s Jewish Ghetto got its start in the 10th century but would have a population explosion in the 13th century, when Jews were ordered to vacate their homes and gather in one area. Much of the ghetto was redeveloped from 1893-1913 after the ban preventing Jews from living elsewhere was lifted, and many of the buildings are from this era, though some older important structures were saved.
At one point Jews made up 10% of Prague’s population (10,000 Jews), but the Holocaust would leave a deep mark on the area. Prague would be spared much of the bombings carried out by Hitler’s army. He wanted to convert several of the buildings in the Jewish Quarter to a "Museum of the Extinct Race" after WWII. Only once was Prague bombed. On Valentine’s Day in 1945 the U.S. Air Force accidentally dropped 152 tons of bombs on the city, which had been meant for Dresden, Germany.
Today, roughly 3,000 Jews still live in the area.
Little Square (Male Namesti)
The iron fountain in the center dates from 1560. The Rott building - with hand-painted murals - is slightly younger but you can still see Renaissance graffiti on parts of it.
The Mayor of the Jewish Quarter, Mordechai Maisel, funded the Renaissance restoration. During this time (1590) the synagogue was constructed only to be severely damaged by the Great Fire of 1689. Its renovation would be Baroque in style but would be rebuilt again in a neo-Gothic style by 1905. During World War II it housed seized possessions of deported Jews. Today, it serves as a museum of Jewish Heritage.
Located on Maiselova Street, one of the main thoroughfares into the Jewish Quarter.
A smaller structure was built under the supervision of Rabbi Pinkas in the late 1400s. In 1535 a wealthy Jew, Aaron Meshullam Horowitz, rebuilt a synagogue between his house and the Old Jewish Cemetery. It was to be a private place of worship.
The structure contains a reticulated vault and stuccoes in the Renaissance style. The southern part of the structure and a gallery for women were added in the 17th century. During a renovation, an ancient ritual bath was discovered underneath the building. It is believed to be a private area for the Horowitz family.
Following WWII the names of nearly 80,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jews, who were victims of the Holocaust, were inscribed on the walls. When the Communists came to power the names were erased when rebuilding the structure after a flood. After the 1989 revolution, the names were restored permanently.
To say that walking through the synagogue, etched with names from floor to ceiling on every wall, is gut-wrenching would be an understatement. The terror is more than anyone can absorb, but to visit upstairs will add a layer of heartbreak. Spread through several rooms are the drawings from children in the Terezin concentration camp (just west of Prague). They recorded drawings of their faith and scenes from the Bible, everyday events such as their dormitories and meals, and most horrific, their parents being loaded into train cars, headed for their deaths. Everyone should see these rooms. It will leave you permanently changed.
Located at Siroka 23/3. On the same grounds lay...
Old Jewish Cemetery
This is Europe's oldest Jewish burial place, dating back to 1439. Jews were not allowed to be buried elsewhere, so bodies were buried 12 deep in some areas. This is the most crowded cemetery in the world with over 12,000 tombstones and perhaps 100,000 remains.
Old Town (Stare Mesto)
This 213 foot tall tower was part of Old Town's fortifications, dating to 1475, though a gate has been on the site since the 11th century. Powder Tower (originally known as Mountain Tower) was the gateway to the Royal Route, leading up to the castle until 1836. When the "New" Town was incorporated into Prague the Powder Tower was used as a gunpowder storehouse, earning its new name.
It was built in the Art Noveau style between 1906-1911 on the original site of the Royal Court. The signing of the document granting Czechoslovakia freedom took place here in 1918. Today it is used as a cultural center and concert hall.
Located on the Republic Square.
St. James Church.
This is Prague's second-longest church with 21 altars. It is renowned for its organ (dating from 1702) and acoustics, making this a popular place for concerts. The first church on the site was Gothic in style, and built by Minorites (a branch of the Franciscans) but was damaged in the Great Fire of 1689. It was rebuilt in the Baroque style.
One of the (eerie) legends attributed to the church is the burial of Count Vratislav of Mirovice. For several days after his burial people heard moans. Thinking he was having problems ascending to Heaven, his tomb was sprinkled with Holy water. The moans stopped. During a renovation it was discovered that his remains were outside of his coffin. He had been buried alive.
Located at Mala Stupartska.
The following surround the Old Town Square.
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.
In the 11th century the site housed a Romanesque church, which was replaced by an early Gothic church in 1256, and finally by the present church in the late 14th century.
This church was closely connected to the 14th c. Hussite movement for religious reform. Jan Hus (a monument is located in the same square) was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholics defeated the Hussites, put Jan Hus to death in 1415, and proceeded to rid the church of any Hussite symbol, statue or decoration.
It was built for Jan Arnost Goltz in 1756 and features a beautiful pink and white stucco facade with balcony. When Count Goltz died the palace was bought by the Kinsky family, which boasted a large library (and is now home to a collection of the National Gallery). It was from the balcony that Klement Gottwald announced the take over of the Czechoslovakian government by the Communist party in 1948.
Other Highlights of Prague:
In 1783 the Classical style building was completed, commissioned by Count Nostitz. It was here that Mozart premiered his "Don Giovanni". Also, parts of the movie "Amadeus" were filmed here.
Located at Ovocny trh 1.
This large square, named for a Bohemian Duke, is nearly a half a mile long. Originally it was a horse market but has evolved into a grand tree-lined boulevard with gardens in the center. Several historical events took place here, most recently the marches which led to the Velvet Revolution in 1989.