Prague Minos Guide

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Jewish Town

A beautiful quarter, its monuments and its turbulent, rich history
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Despite being the smallest historical quarter in Prague, it is one of the most visited. It is called Josefov and it is named after Emperor Joseph the Second (brother of Marie-Antoinette), who once contributed to the improvement of the Prague Jewish community living conditions. At some point it was the largest Jewish community in Europe. During your walk, you will see the oldest preserved synagogue in Prague (Old-New Synagogue) and the Old Jewish Cemetery, which will surprise you with its gravestones at different levels. You will probably want to take a picture of the Jewish City Hall, which has two clocks – one with Hebrew numerals and a anticlockwise movement

of the hands, and the other one with Roman numerals. Because this part of town underwent major renovation work at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, you will not find the typical picturesque, romantic, medieval town atmosphere. Nevertheless, you will find that the Jewish community played an important part in the history of the city of Prague. The golden days of Josefov were at the turn of the 16th and 17th century and many original monuments bear witness to that period, at the same time they remain in use for the everyday life of the community. Come and walk through Prague Jewish Town and get familiar for instance with the legend of the Golem.



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0.0km / 1.761km 1. Franz Kafka Square

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We are at the limit between the Jewish Town (Josefov) and the Old Town. There were already Jewish People settled in Prague in the 10th century. The first houses were built in the outer bailey of the Prague Castle. In the spirit of medieval Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Ghetto was separated from the Old Town by gates. The revolutionary year of 1848 finally gave them the freedom to live where they chose and they consequently spread out through the entire Prague. In 1850, Josefov became the fifth municipal quarter of Prague.
Today, Josefov is a religious and cultural centre, and Jews live where they please. A plaque on the corner house reminds us that this is Franz Kafka´s birthplace (1883), a prominent Jewish

writer from Prague. You certainly know his work "Proměny" ( Metamorphosis). In 2000, the adjacent area was named after him. Foreign visitors are sometimes confused by a red plaque with the words "Náměstí Franze Kafky". You will not see the words "Franz Kafka Square" because the Czech language uses declensions which modify the ending of words depending on the case just as in other Slavic and some other languages. There is an exhibition about Franz Kafka in this house.
Look at the Baroque church of St. Mikuláš and at the City of Prague Town Hall. , towards the end of Kaprova street one can see the Prague Castle, largest monument in Prague, towering above the Vltava River. Let us turn into Maiselova Street.

0.154km / 1.761km 2. Maiselova Street

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The name of the street reminds us of provost of the Jewish Town Mordechai Maisel who financed Renaissance builing in the ghetto. He founded the Maisel Synagogue in 1590. The original Renaissance synagogue was heavily damaged by the 1689 fire. It was reconstructed in a Neo-Gothic style at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. It is not used for services anymore; it is now used by the Jewish Museum as exhibition space.
The Maisel Synagogue holds a permanent exhibition

of the Jewish history in the Czech lands until the 18th century coming from different synagogues that were closed down when the whole of Josefov underwent sanitation work as well as rebuilding. The Jewish Museum collections are one of the largest in the world and are also unique coming from a relatively small geographical place, the Czech and Moravian regions. The entire Maiselova Street is lined with residential houses from the turn of the 19th and the 20th century.

0.384km / 1.761km 3. Pinkas Synagogue

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The late Gothic Pinkas Synagogue is the second oldest synagogue in the quarter of Josefov. It was founded at the end of the 15th century, directly in the ghetto. It is situated at the entrance to the Jewish Cemetery, which will be the subject of one of our future tour stops. A Monument to the Czech and Moravian Jews was made in the synagogue after the World War II, dedicated to the victims of Nazi persecution. The names of 80,000 murdered Jews are hand-written on the walls of the synagogue. On the first floor, there is an exhibition of children's paintings from the Terezín concentration camp, which is a very touching evidence of

the inhuman fate that awaited them and others. This exhibition is all we have left from those who did not survived.
The synagogue underwent extensive renovation after the 2002 floods when it was 1.3 meters under water. One of the buildings at the entrance of the cemetery is used solely for the needs of the Jewish people as a Mikvah purification ritual bath. The Široká Street (formerly Josefská Street) was one of the main access roads to the Vltava ford crossing as early as in the 10th century. The 20th century is present through residential buildings of Czech modernism, house no. 24 and 25 by R. Klenka and A. Makovec from 1913.

0.465km / 1.761km 4. Jan Palach Square

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Jan Palach Square got its name spontaneously in memory of Jan Palach, a victim of the protests against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact troops in 1968. He was a Charles University student of Philosophy. He burned himself on January 16th 1969 in Wenceslas Square (he died on January 19th 1969; please see his memorial plaque made by O. Zoubek). However, soon after the occupation, the Communist regime returned the square to its previous name "Krasnoarmějců Square" (Red Army Square), which referred to the temporary burial of some Red Army soldiers killed during the liberation of Prague in 1945. But the Prague residents had not forgotten,

and since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the square bears the name of Palach again.
In front of the Rudolfinum ( named in honor of Crown Prince Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Joseph the First and the Empress Sisi), a monumental Neo-Renaissance building, There is a statue of music composer Antonín Dvořák. The Rudolfinum is now used for concerts and exhibition purposes. Do you know the Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony? Let us rest our eyes on the panorama of the Prague Castle and the Lesser Town. The School of Decorative Arts as well as the Decorative Arts Museum are also Neo-Renaissance, Lets walk along those buildings and continue our tour.

0.635km / 1.761km 5. The grid

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Find the spot in the wall from which you can have a look at the Jewish cemetery.

Or you can walk around the cemetery and enter it from the next stop.

0.831km / 1.761km 6. Old Jewish Cemetery

0.962km / 1.761km 7. Moses

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The park next to the Old-New Synagogue has a statue of Moses made by A. Bílek. This is the kneeling figure of Moses writing Adam´s name, symbolizing the beginning, fall and redemption of humankind. The bronze sculpture is placed on a pedestal made of polished stone. The sculptor was influenced by both the Neo-Baroque and the Art Nouveau style. The original from 1905 was destroyed by the Nazis and

the present statue, a faithful copy, was unveiled in 1947.
You can admire the surrounding residential buildings, which were constructed after the renovation of Josefov. The house number 41/21 in Maiselova Street was made by architect R. Klenka between 1910 and 1911. The Building u První Reduty is Art Nouveau from 1905 - 1906, as well as the adjacent houses in Pařížská Street numbers 129 and 130.

1.011km / 1.761km 8. Pařížská Street and Bílkova Street

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Let´s leave the Jewish topic aside for a moment. The Hotel Intercontinental, a Neo-Functionalist building from between 1970 and 1974, has on the top floor a panoramic restaurant called "Zlatá Praha" (Golden Prague). The Art Nouveau bridge built between 1906 and 1908 is named after Bohemian writer S. Čech. It is the only arched iron bridge in Prague. The City of Prague has preserved much of its greenery, which is even clearer on top of the Letná Hill. There is a terrace with a kinetic sculpture called Metronom. Older Prague residents certainly remember that here, between 1955 and 1962 stood a hideous monumental statue of Joseph Stalin,

over 15 metres tall, through which the Czechoslovak Communists wanted to please their Soviet "Provider" of those days. Fortunately, the statue didn´t remain very long. Anybody who decides to climb up to the top will be rewarded with a beautiful view.
Let´s return our attention to Josefov and Pařížská Street. Behind the Building u První Reduty, we can see more interesting residential buidings of different styles. The Cubist houses in E. Krásnohorská Street No. 10, 12 and 14 were built between 1919 and 1921 for the teachers' cooperative. This type of architecture has no match around the world and is appreciated by foreign architects.

1.222km / 1.761km 9. Spanish Synagogue

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Here we will be caught up by a contrast of the Jewish Spanish Synagogue and the Christian church of St. Spirit, the history of which goes back to the 14th century.
The territory around the church of St. Spirit is a core of the Jewish Town of Prague. The Jews of the eastern rite had lived here since the 10th century. They lived in a strict isolation from their fellow believers of the western denomination, who had concentrated around the Old-New Synagogue. This was also possible because both of the Jewish quarters were partitioned by a Christian territory, reaching all the way here to the Old Town marketplace where

the mentioned church of St. Spirit had been built.
At the place of the oldest Jewish house of prayer called "Stará Škola" (Old School) was in 1868 built a Spanish Synagogue in a Moorish style according to the project of an architect Ullmann. It has been accessible to the public again after extensive reconstruction works. The Spanish Synagogue houses an exhibition named "History of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia since the 18th Century until Present". In addition, there is an exhibition of the silver ritual objects, and concerts are being held here as well. A Gallery of Robert Guttmann is used for exhibition purposes.

1.241km / 1.761km 10. Satue of Franz Kafka

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The statue of Franz Kafka is modern, created betwwen 2000 and 2003. The statue is made of bronze and it is 375 centimeters tall. This work of art truly has Kafka's style. The author is contemporary painter and sculptor Jaroslav Róna. The sculpture consists of two bodies, the lower part is an empty male tuxedo that carries on his shoulders ( a child) the figure of the actual Franz Kafka. The sculptor was inspired by Kafka's short story entitled "Popis Jednoho Zápasu" (Description of a Match). The sculptor chose this "split" design

to convey the spiritual bifurcation the writer expresses in his texts. At some point in the story, a character climbs on the shoulders of his, so far, more dominant companion and then rides on him through the countryside like on a horse. During the ride, the countryside is imagined in the character's mind and sometimes modified. The sculptor wanted to put forward the menacing as well as humorous poetics of Kafka's work. He probably succeeded given that many passers-by are taken aback and actually stop to take a closer look.

1.393km / 1.761km 11. Paris street (Parizska)

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This avenue crosses the Jewish town and connects the Old Town Square to the Cechuv Bridge across the Vltava River. The modern street, which name evokes the style of the French metropolis, was planned within the remodeling of the former Jewish ghetto in the late 19th century. Fancy apartment flats, with an architecture that

combines elements of historicizing styles and Viennese Secession, appeared within a very short period of time on both sides of the street. Its ground floor was taken over by luxury stores and chic restaurants. To this day, the street radiates a “Parisian” atmosphere and remains one of the busiest avenues in the Old Town.

1.49km / 1.761km 12. Old-New Synagogue

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The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest preserved monument of the Jewish Prague and simultaneously one of the most significant ancient European synagogues. The building is one of the most impressive structures of the Czech early Gothic. It was built in the last third of the 13th century. It was originally called the New Synagogue or the Great Synagogue. It got the name "Old-New" when another synagogue was built during the 16th century. A Jewish legend says that the foundation stones of the synagogue were supposedly brought in by angels from the demolished Jerusalem temple,

under the condition of being returned when the temple would be rebuilt. Another legend says the synagogue was protected during fires by angels transformed into doves, thus the synagogue has been preserved without any serious damage until today. Yet another legend says the remains of the Golem are laid down in its vault. In any case, Rabbi Loew worked in the synagogue, as well as a number of other personalities. The synagogue has served for more than 700 years as main synagogue for the Jewish Town of Prague. The synagogue is accessible to the public for a fee.

1.635km / 1.761km 13. Jewish Town Hall

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Today the Jewish Town Hall houses the headquarters of the Jewish religious community. It is mentioned as early as in 1541. The current appearance of the city hall is late Baroque. It has two clocks – one with Hebrew numerals and an anticlockwise movement of the hands, and the other one with Roman numerals. Next to the city hall stands the High Synagogue from 1568. Its name refers to the fact that it is not situated on the ground floor but on the first floor, it used to be connected to the Town

Hall. It is not accessible to public, it exclusively serves the needs of the Jewish Community. The Klaus Synagogue was built in Baroque style, and was the biggest synagogue. It houses a permanent exhibition of the Jewish Museum about Jewish holidays and customs. There is another museum exhibition in a Neo-Romanesque ceremonial hall, which exhibits, among other things, the activities of the Prague Funeral Brotherhood. You can peek through the latticework and look at the Old Jewish Cemetery.

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