Prague is famous for many things: its sea of red roofs, its Philharmonic Orchestra, cheaper-than-a-pound pints of Pilsner, the bloke who directed One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest… one of a little known facts about Prague is that has one of the oldest Jewish Quarters in Europe. Perhaps because of the atrocities of the WWII, Jewish heritage has been pushed to the very back of your average tourist’s mind – yet there’s so much to explore! Let’s have a look at a rundown of the key places & legends of Jewish Prague – those that I’m particularly fond of myself & believe you will fall in love with too!
Jewish Prague is entwined with medieval legends, 19th century tales & magical stories of Alchemists & their inventions. One such invention was called the Golem (nope, nothing to do with the Gollum, sorry LOTR fans). Rabbi Loew was perhaps the most popular of Jewish scholars. When the first antisemitic attacks started happening back in the 16th century, Rabbi Loew built a clay giant – the Golem – which was to protect the Jewish community. The Golem was powered by a shem – a little clay ball which fit into a round slot in Golem’s forehead. Unfortunately, as it goes with clay giants, the Golem came to life & realised that there’s more to life than just protecting a bunch of people he didn’t really know that well after all. The Golem rioted big time but eventually Rabbi managed to take out the shem out of his forehead and, quite rightfully, the Golem has never been awaken again. The legend has it that he’s been bricked into the walls of the Old New Synagogue in Prague.
Rabbi Loew’s grave
You can find Rabbi’s grave in the ever so famous Old Jewish Cemetery in the centre of Prague’s Jewish Quarter – less than a 5 minute walk from the Astronomical Clock. The cemetery has quickly become the most visited part of the Jewish Town (& one of the top ten most visited cemeteries in the world!) for it is nothing like your usual ‘famous cemetery‘. The surreal thing is that despite there being about 12,000 tombstones (from as early as 1439), it has been discovered that in fact over 100,000 Jews are interred in this cemetery in as many as 12 layers!
The Star of David
Did you know that the very first time anyone used the yellow star of David as a Jewish symbol was in Prague? It was in 1357 when Charles IV gave the community this flag as an honour for supporting the city.
Franz Kafka’s head
Franz Kafka is perhaps the best known Prague Jew – for his melancholic life, for his heart-stopping works of the Metamorphosis & the Castle, for his distinctive looks (you can find multiple sculptures of Kafka’s head around Prague!). You can find his museum on the bank of the Vltava river and you can also find his birth house right next to the Astronomical Clock just around the corner from the Old Town Square.
Kippahs & Menorahs
Although the Jewish community in Prague is nowhere as large as it used to be, you can still find dozens and dozens of stalls selling Jewish memorabilia, quaint bookstores selling books in Hebrew & Jiddish and also a handful of restaurants offering staple Jewish dishes. The easiest way to discover the area of the Jewish town in Prague is to get yourself a ticket covering all of the local synagogues and the cemetery and spend the day exploring away!
I might be biased as my ancestors were indeed of Jewish origin however I do think that it is a fascinating part of Prague’s history which is not being promoted (& appreciated) as much as it deserves!
Have you explored Jewish Prague before?
Did you know that this part of Prague exists?