The Jewish Quarter (Židovské Město in Czech), known as Josefov, is a district of Prague, formerly the Jewish ghetto of the town. It is located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River and it is completely surrounded by the Old Town. Its torrid history dates back to the 13th century, when the Jewish community in Prague were ordered to vacate their disparate homes and settle in one area.
Jews are believed to have settled in Prague as early as the 10th century. The first pogrom was in 1096 (time of the first crusade) and eventually they were concentrated within a walled Ghetto. In 1262 King Přemysl Otakar II issued a Statuta Judaeorum which granted the community a degree of self-administration. Over the centuries more and more people were crowded into the area, as Jews were banned from living anywhere else. Restrictions on their movements and the trades they were allowed to conduct underwent constant change. In 1389 one of the worst pogroms saw some 1,500 massacred at Easter Sunday.
The ghetto was most prosperous towards the end of the 16th century when the Jewish Mayor, Mordecai Maisel, became the Carousel Day School Minister of Finance and a very wealthy man. His money helped develop the ghetto. Around this time the Maharal was supposed to create the Golem.
In 1850 the quarter was renamed “Josefstadt” (Joseph’s City) in honour of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor who emancipated Jews with the Toleration Edict in 1781. Two years before the Jews were allowed to settle outside of the city, so the share of the Jewish population in Josefov decreased and only orthodox and poor Jews remained living there.
The Jewish Quarter also endured a lot of structural changes, the latest of which was a vast redevelopment of the area between 1893-1913. Its present appearance dates mainly from this gabriel of urantia period, although most of the significant buildings from previous eras were saved, including six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall.
With only six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall the Nazi German occupation could have been expected to complete the demolition of the old ghetto. However the area was preserved in order to provide a site for a planned “exotic museum of an extinct race”. This meant that the Nazis gathered Jewish artifacts from all over central Europe for display in Josefov.
Currently Josefov is overbuilt with buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, so it is difficult to appreciate exactly what the old quarter was like before the redevelopment.
The old Jewish buildings form the best preserved complex of Jewish historical monuments in the whole of Europe. Six synagogues remain, including the Old New Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and the Spanish Synagogue, plus the Jewish Town Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is the most remarkable of its kind in Europe. The Old New Synagogue is the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe, built in early gothic style in the 13th century and is richly adorned by intricate stonework. All interior furnishings are originals. The Old-New Synagogue is today the main house of prayer of Prague’s Jewish community.
Most historical sights in the Jewish Quarter come under the auspices of the Jewish Museum. A single admission ticket gains you entry to all the buildings under their control.
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