Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov
One of the most impressive sights in Prague is the Old Jewish cemetery in Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto. This cemetery was used from 1439 to 1787 and is the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe. The Nazis made it a policy to destroy Jewish cemeteries, sometimes using the tombstones for target practice, but Hitler ordered that this cemetery be left intact, since he was planning to build a Jewish museum in Prague after all the Jews in Europe had been exterminated according to his diabolical plan.

Tombstones in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague

There are more than 100,000 Jews buried in this small plot, the graves being layered 12 deep in some places. This is not unusual for European cemeteries where space is at a premium. In Germany where the graves are also 12 layers deep, the tombstones mark only the top layer of the buried coffins. In the Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, there are around 12,000 tombstones, crowded closely together with almost no grass between them. Some of the tombstones look like beds, like the one on the left in the photograph below.
The Jewish Museum in Prague
At the present time, The Jewish Museum in Prague consists of exhibits in four of the old Synagogues and the Ceremonial Hall, along with the Old Jewish Cemetery which extends from the courtyard of the Pinkas Synagogue to the rear of the Ceremonial Hall and the Klausen Synagogue. There are two other Synagogues in the old Jewish quarter that are still being used as places of worship, so they have no exhibits. One of them is the Old-New Synagogue (shown in the photograph below) which dates back to the 13th century; it is open to the public as part of the museum, except on Saturdays and Jewish Holidays. The other one is the High Synagogue which is in the same building as the Old Town Hall; neither the town hall nor the High Synagogue were on the museum tour when I visited Prague in October, 2000. Some tourist guidebooks for Prague still mention the textile exhibits in the High Synagogue, which are apparently no longer open to the public.
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Old Jewish Quarter
The Jewish quarter is a small area known as Josefov between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. Most of it can be walked through and around in a single day but any detailed explorations needs time. The Jewish cemetery, Old-new synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and the Pinkas synagogue are the most worthwhile sights. Be prepared for entrance fees at several of the sights.
The history of the area dates back to the 11th Century. Though the Jews of this time prospered and coexisted in relative peace with their neighbours, the crusades of the 11th century were to bring a tidal wave of sorrow.
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Old New Synagogue
Dates back to the middle of the 13th century, which means that this is the oldest synagogue in Central Europe, the gates themselves are the oldest in Prague. The early Gothic style gives you an idea of how many of the buildings once looked like. There are many legends about this building. One of them claims that angels came with the stones from which the synagogue is built and have protected it ever since (unrelated or not the synagogue has avoided two big fires). The synagogue was renovated in the 19th century and is used for religious services. Notice the separation of men and woman. During the service the synagogue itself is reserved for the men, while the women must follow the service through small windows in the wall. The synagogue is still in use.
High Synagogue
Attached to the Jewish town hall and housing the Jewish museums collection of silver, Torah pointers and ceremonial crowns is the High Synagogue so named for its' location on the second floor. The lower chamber houses a kosher restaurant. Mordecai Maisel founded the synagogue. The current building is a reconstruction and dates from 1892.

Klaus Synagogue
Now a small museum of Jewish culture displaying art and artefacts including paintings, combs, books and some fine torah crowns.

Perpendicular to the synagogue is the building of the Prague Burial society, which holds a large collection of paintings of Jews who were held at the Terezin concentration camp and a series of children drawings illustrating the same.


Golem is a Hebrew word, which has been translated in several ways: embryo, primitive matter, unformed matter, man without intelligence, manners and morals to name a few.

The fascination Jews have with the possibilities of animating lifeless matter, as the creator himself did, are evident in the texts and teachings of the Kabbala. With the help of the appropriate ritual and the secrets prescribed by the texts it is possible to create a soulless human or creature from simple primitive matter such as clay. Hence the Golem in Prague, which has grown to mythical proportions, was created by Rabbii Loew out of clay but has unfortunately got loose and to this day runs amok somewhere in Prague; some say it resides in the rafters of the Old/New synagogue.

Few might be able to tell you the true origin of the story as the superstitious speculations of so many visitors to Prague has caused the story to take on every conceivable shape and fancy.