Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish Synagogue in Josev, Prague

Spanish Synagogue in PragueThe Spanish Synagogue (Španělská synagoga in Czech) is a synagogue in the Jewish Town of Prague. It is by far the most spectacular of all the synagogues in Josefov and it was the last one to be built in the old Jewish quarter. It was built in 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer (“Alt Schul”). The Spanish Jews, driven out of Spain by Isabella of Castile in the 16th century, found a refuge in Prague. They gained an old synagogue called The Old School or Temple, probably the oldest Prague synagogue from the 12th century. It was called Spanish Synagogue since then. The present building was built between 1867 and 1868 in a Moorish style by Vojtěch Ignátz Ullmann. The synagogue has a regular square plan with a large dome surmounting the central space. The remarkable interior decoration features a low stucco arabesque of stylized Islamic motifs which are also applied to the walls, doors and gallery balustrades. The interior decor was inspired by that of the Alhambra, a building in Granada, Spain that was built by the Moors. The Spanish Synagogue is a mind-boggling sight with its profusion of Moorish motifs of flowers and geometric patterns in brilliant reds, blues and greens with gold trim. The entire interior is covered with color on the ceiling and the walls; the stained glass windows repeat the brilliant colors and patterns. The interior, together with the stained glass windows, were designed by architects A. Baum and B. Munzberg and completed in 1893. The older synagogues in Europe typically feature a bimah in the center of the room and benches around the walls, but the Spanish Synagogue has benches arranged in rows in the center of the room, just like in a Christian church. All of the orthodox synagogues have a separate women’s gallery which is located above the main hall, like a balcony on three sides of the room. The Spanish Synagogue has decorative cast iron columns holding up the women’s gallery. There is a display of photographs in the women’s gallery. An exposition of the Jewish Museum in Prague is held there nowadays. The permanent exhibition is called “From Emancipation to the Present” and it follows on from the exhibition in the Maisel Synagogue. This section covers the history of the Czech Jewish community during the periods of enlightenment and emancipation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the First Republic from 1918 to 1938, the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from 1939 to 1945, and the post-war period. By reopening the Spanish Synagogue – closed for over 20 years – on the 130th anniversary of its establishment, the Jewish Museum in Prague has completed one of its most ambitious projects to date.


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