My first day in Prague
Follow the continuation of my adventures in the fascinating city of Prague!
I decided to start my second day in Prague by visiting the Jewish Quarter. Since the previous day was a Saturday, most of the monuments were closed for Shabbat, so I kept most of the day to explore this area, also known as Josefov.
The Jewish community settled in Prague back in the 10th century, but the Jewish Quarter as we know it today dates from the 13th century, when Jewish people had to leave their previous homes scattered around the city and settled in this area.
The community kept growing over the centuries, especially when Jews from other countries, mainly from Germany, Austria and Spain moved to Prague, overcrowding the Jewish Quarter, as they were not allowed to live elsewhere in the city.
In spite of the multiple reforms made to this quarter in the 1800s and the occupation of the Nazis in the 20th century, many historical buildings were preserved, serving as a testimony of the fascinating Jewish history of the city.
Today, the monumental ensemble is composed of 5 synagogues and the famous Old Jewish Cemetery, as well as some other exhibitions that tell the history and lifestyle of the Jewish community of Prague.
I started my visit at the Pinkas Synagogue, where I got my ticket to visit all attractions at a price of 500kr (approx. €18).
Pinkas Synagogue is the second oldest in Prague. It was constructed in the 16th century by a member of the Prague Jewish Community.
Today, it commemorates the 78,000 Czech Jews that were killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Painted on the walls you can find the names of all the victims of this brutality of our recent history.
The synagogue also has an exhibition focused on the Jewish children that were sent to the Terezín Ghetto, where you can find the touching drawings they made while incarcerated between 1942 and 1944.
As you exit Pinkas Synagogue, you'll come across with the Old Jewish Cemetery. Prague's Jewish Cemetery is one of the most important sites in the Jewish Quarter of Josefov. Founded in the 15th century, it was the main burial place
Due to the lack of space, the tombstones were placed right next to each other, giving the cemetery the crooked look that has made it so famous all around the world. The cemetery is a special place in Prague to spend a contemplating moment in a serene setting.
The visit continues at Klausen Synagogue, the biggest synagogue in Prague.
The synagogue has a permanent exhibition that explains the main sources of prayer in the Judaism, focusing in all areas of Jewish worship and religious celebrations, as well as daily life of the Jewish families.
A few metres ahead is the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest monument of the Jewish quarter in Prague and the oldest preserved synagogue in Europe.
Built in the 13th century, it served as the main synagogue of Prague for over 700 years. Originally known as the New Synagogue, its current name comes from the 16th century, when other synagogues were built around it, taking the name of Old-New Synagogue.
According to the legend, the Synagogue was built of stones from the Second Template of Jerusalem, brought to Prague by Angels.
The legend of the Golem of Prague is also related to the Old-New Synagogue. The golem was a monster made of clay by a Rabi from the 16th century, created to protect the Jews of the city and that could be awakened in times of need.
I felt so lucky to visit such a remarkable site for Jewish history in Prague than thankfully was preserved in spite of the destruction of the European Jewish communities during World War II.
Another synagogue that is included with the main ticket is the Maisel Synagogue, founded at the end of the 16th century by the mayor of the Jewish Town.
Inside, you can find an exhibition that explains the history of the Jews in Bohemia, from their arrival in the 10th century up to their peak around the 18th century.
This exhibition is quite interactive compared to the others, with plenty of information about the original structure of the Jewish quarter, including a great video with a miniature reproduction of what the town looked like back in the 17th century.
I finished my visit to the Jewish Quarter with the Spanish Synagogue, my favourite of all.
Originally, this was the Old School or Altshul, the oldest synagogue of Prague’s Jewish Town. It became known as the Old School shortly after the construction of the New (later Old-New) Synagogue. It belonged to a small Jewish community which was established before the middle of the 12th century and which remained separate from the rest of the ghetto throughout its existence.
The Old School soon proved inadequate for the growing numbers of adherents of the reform rite. This was why a decision was made in 1862 to construct a new temple. 1867 saw the demolition of the Old School on the site of which was built today’s Spanish Synagogue in a Byzantine-Moorish style.
The synagogue has a square ground plan with a large copula above the central area. On three sides there are galleries for women on cast-iron columns. There were 500 male seats on the ground floor and 300 female seats in the galleries. At the end of the 19th century, the windows were glazed with gained glass and a new organ was installed.
During the Second World War, the synagogue was converted into a storehouse for confiscated Jewish property. Luckily, in 1954 it was brought under the care of the Jewish Museum and was fully reconstructed and restored between 1995 and 1998.
As an enthusiast of Jewish culture, the visit to the Jewish Quarter of Prague was indispensable for me. There's no better way to immerse yourself in the life and history of the Jews of Bohemia than through the exhibitions that you will find in Josefov.
The Jewish Quarter was partially demolished in the 19th century, and many of the buildings in the area were reconstructed following an Art Nouveau style. If you'd like to enjoy some Art Nouveau constructions that have nothing to envy to the Art Nouveau district of Riga, you can't miss this quarter of Prague.
Leaving the Jewish Quarter to the east you'll find the Vltava river, offering some of the best views of the city.
Prague Castle dominates the left side of the river with its mighty walls. The tower of St. Vitus Cathedral is the predominant building, but you can also spot the two white towers of St. George's Basilica, while the main visual axis is represented by the Old Royal Palace.
Next to the river is also the Rudolfinum, one of the most popular music auditoriums of Prague.
If you're a fan of classic music, Rudolfinum has been home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for over 50 years, so there's no better place to enjoy a concert!
Walking along the bank of the river I reached Charles Bridge, a symbol of Prague and one of the most charming bridges in Europe.
Commanded by King Charles IV in 1357, it was only finished in the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge was part of the Royal Route, the traditional coronation route of the Bohemian kings from the Powder Tower up to Prague Castle.
The bridge is decorated with a total of 30 statutes, most of them dating to the 18th century and built in a baroque style.
The bridge is also protected by three towers, the first one on the Old Town side of the bridge, and the two others in the Lesser Town.
Pretty as it is, Charles Bridge is also extremely overcrowded by hordes of tourist at all times. If you'd like to visit the bridge without hundreds of people, I can't recommend enough getting up early in the morning and try getting there before anyone else. I'm sure that you won't regret the early rise!
In addition to the beautiful gothic and baroque architecture, Prague also has a more modern area known as Nové Město, or the New Town. This is the youngest town that comprises modern Prague, and also the largest.
In spite of its name, it was founded back in the 14th century, so it has over 700 years of history.
Coming from Charles Bridge, I started exploring the Old Town walking down Smetanovo nábřeží, a beautiful promenade following the Vltava river and blanked by colourful buildings, very different from the gothic towers of Charles Bridge.
The new town is the most populated area of Prague, always full of locals following their daily lives instead of tourists.
The main reason why most visitors go to the New Town is to visit the Dancing House, a building with one of the most striking designs of Prague.
The building was originally known as Fred and Ginger, named after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers because the house looks like a couple dancing, but the nickname of Tančící dům or Dancing House is what the locals use.
My second day in Prague finished in Wenceslas Square, the heart of Nové Město.
Wenceslas Square is a vibrant area full of shops, hotels and restaurants. No matter at what time of the day you visit, you will always find something to do here. It is also one of the most popular areas for nightlife.
At the very top of the square is the National Museum, the largest in the Czech Republic. Some of the exhibits include collections of Prehistory and Protohistory, Old Czech History and the Natural Museum.
Right in front of the Museum is the statue of St. Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech Republic.
The square has also seen some of the most important events of Czech history, from the anti-communist uprisings to the celebration of the Czech independence. The area is just massive, fitting over 400,000 people.
This was the perfect spot to say goodbye to one of the most fascinating cities in Eastern Europe. I'm literally counting down the days until I can visit Prague again!
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