A to Z Abroad: Jewish Quarter (Prague)

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Tucked into a small sector of Prague is the Jewish Quarter. Known locally as Josefov, this part of Prague was once a Jewish ghetto. Today the area still thrives as a community that both preserves and furthers Jewish culture.

As early as the 11th century, Jews were forced to live within the confines of Josefov behind a wall. Despite the separation of Jews and the rest of Prague, the people within the ghetto were often subjected to pogroms (organized massacres) throughout the 13th and 14th centuries.

However, by the 16th century the Jewish Quarter reached a period of prosperity when a philanthropist by the name of Mordecai Meisel poured money into area. This allowed for the building of a town hall and two synagogues (which all still stand today).

Architecture in The Jewish Quarter, Prague
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Not much of the original Jewish Quarter remains as it was largely demolished in the 19th century to make way for a city initiative to remodel Prague after Paris. The only original landmarks to remain are six synagogues, the town hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

My fascination with old cemeteries naturally led me to the gates of The Old Jewish Cemetery.  The grounds are a reminder of the impact of discrimination and subjugation, but also a glowing tribute to the tenacity of humanity.

From the early 15th century to 1787, Jews were forbidden to bury their dead outside of their district.  There’s no way to know how many graves are in the cemetery, but estimates put the number at about 20,000. Some sections of the graveyard go about twelve layers deep, while approximately 12,000 tombstones are visible at ground level.

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

On many of the gravestones, bits of folded paper and stones can be found.  In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to leave stones instead of flowers. Stones come from the earth and therefore represent the journey of returning to the earth after death.  The stones are often placed on top of folded pieces of paper which are written notes of wishes, as it is an old belief that the dead can grant wishes.

Stones and Wishes
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

As if Prague doesn’t offer enough of a historical and cultural kaleidoscope, the Jewish Quarter provides yet another opportunity to walk back through time and alter your perspective.

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Information Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josefov

http://www.prague.cz/old-jewish-cemetery/

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Part of the A to Z Challenge!

A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9

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c.b.w. 2013

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47 thoughts on “A to Z Abroad: Jewish Quarter (Prague)

    • The cemetery had so many interesting shots, I think I walk away with about 100 of that place. Between the artistry of stonework and the history, it’s one of the most amazing place I’ve ever been.

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  1. Wow. What an amazing cemetery. I would love to walk around and read the stones. So much history, so much sadness. Sometimes I wonder how it would be to have as much faith as the Jews have over the centuries.

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  2. I love old cemeteries, and that one looks just beyond amazing. Can you imagine the tombstone rubbings you could get in there? Wow. Makes my hometown cemetery pale in comparison, and I thought that one was impressive.

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    • We visited the Pinkas Synagogue (the other sites were really crowded) and that was a very moving experience. All the names of Holocaust victims are inscribed on the wall. Names in red did not survive, while those in black lived.

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  3. I’ll never understand why people have felt the need to persecute others throughout history because of belief. It looks like a fascinating area though. I believe we didn’t get to this area when we were in Prague, which is a shame.

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    • Sadly, that’s exactly what happened. Remains are literally stacked upon remains.

      The architecture of Prague was unbelievable – it is such a beautiful city with architecture spanning a number of centuries!

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  4. How incredible! There’s nothing quite as intriguing as an old cemetery. I don’t know why. If ever I visit Prague, it’ll be on the top of my to-do list.

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  5. It’s good that we can see the beauty that comes from pain and that is so apparent in the structures that are still standing. The faith that keeps the Jewish people going is so strong and the rocks are testament to their survival. Thanks for sharing.

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    • That shot of architecture is one of the few from the Jewish Quarter that actually turned out! I decided the shots of the cemetery made up for that seeing as they really show the immense history and meaning of the place.

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  6. Sherrey Meyer

    What lovely buildings! Family members who visited Prague a few years ago were also fascinated by the old cemeteries and traditions. Thanks for sharing this peek inside not only Prague but the Jewish community there.

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  7. I think I must have missed this one when you originally posted it. Very interesting. I could understand the space issue and putting caskets ontop of each other, but the disarray of the headstones to me is confusing. It almost looks like the cemetary had been moved and the stones were just pushed into this spot and began to grow into the ground wherever they landed. Could you at least make out a few of the dates on the stones because it seems like it was engraved mostly in Hebrew.

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