Published On: Wed, Apr 13th, 2016

A Visit to the Jewish Quarter of Prague

A Visit to the Jewish Quarter of Prague

 

By Contrebuting Author

Few cities offer such a rich variety of experiences as Prague.  You can wander the old town admiring the houses for days, you can explore the history or enjoy the art.  It’s no surprise that Prague is one of the most visited cities in Europe and in response Prague has developed an impressive range of hotels.  Many hotels have been completely rebuilt and many architectural gems have been restored to their original glory, they tend to be on the pricey side though so if you’re looking to spend a few days, and this city certainly deserves it, then you’re probably best off booking a short term let.  By comparison with say London or Paris, Prague is a small city and most of your movement around the city is likely to be on foot.  Although the public transport is efficient, clean and cheap and one ticket serves bus, tram and metro, if you choose accommodation that is central you’ll find that you have little need for it.

A visit to the Jewish Quarter of Prague is a must for anyone visiting the city. It sits on a bend of the river Vltava, bordered to the south by the Old Town.  What you can visit today is what remains of a thousand year old community.  For centuries Prague’s Jews had suffered oppression and discrimination and it wasn’t until 1850 that the Jewish Quarter was officially incorporated into the city of Prague.  In 1890, the Old Town contained approximately 644 people per hectare, by contrast, the Jewish Quarter contained 1, 822 people per hectare.  Most of the ancient buildings of the Jewish Quarter were torn down during the 1890’s, partly to eradicate disease and insanitary conditions, partly to give the newly prosperous bourgeoisie room to expand.  A few synagogues survived as did the sixteenth century Jewish Town Hall, which still serves the community.

The most significant survival of the Old Quarter is the Old Jewish Cemetery, with its thousands of gravestones, many bearing symbols denoting the profession of the deceased person.  Founded in 1478, this site was for over three hundred years the only burial ground permitted to Jews.  It is estimated that 100, 000 people have been buried here.  Much of the area’s history has been preserved in the many synagogues around the cemetery. The Klausen Synagogue, situated on the periphery of the cemetery, houses a Jewish Museum which is ideally visited before exploring the rest of the Jewish Quarter.  Wandering the new streets of the Quarter you’ll find a delightful mixture of Art Nouveau and quite extraordinary Cubist Houses, a vogue for which the Prague bourgeoisie were particularly enthusiastic.  The Quarter also contains two outstanding museums: the Museum of Decorative Arts which contains some stunning stained glass and the St Agnes of Bohemia Convent, a thirteenth century building meticulously restored to its former glory in the nineteen sixties.  It is now used by the National Gallery to display its collection of medieval art from Central Europe.  When you’re exhausted and you will be, wander back into the Old Town and have a coffee at the Café Grand Praha, where Prague’s most famous son, Franz Kafka, once lived.

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