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Josefov

by danize.com@gmail.com

Josefov is a small neighborhood and the smallest cadastral area of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. It used to be the Jewish ghetto of the city, but now it is part of the Old Town (Staré Město). The name Josefov comes from Emperor Joseph II, who abolished the restrictive laws that limited the life of the Czech Jews in 1781. Josefov is one of the most beautiful and romantic destinations in Central Europe, where you can visit the Castle, the Charles Bridge, the Old Town Square and many historical monuments. It is also a place to reflect on the moving history of a people who suffered for too long. Here is some useful information about what to see and do in Josefov.

  • Tickets: You can buy tickets to visit the Jewish Quarter, which include: Jewish Cemetery, Old-New Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue, Ceremonial Hall and the temporary exhibitions of the Robert Guttmann Gallery. You can also book a guided tour in Spanish that includes: Guided tour of the Jewish Quarter (including its synagogues and cemetery), Entrance to the Jewish Museum.
  • History: The Jewish presence in Prague and the Czech Republic dates back to at least the mid-10th century. Since then, the Jews suffered deportations and harassments of all kinds. Sadly famous is the Easter Massacre of 1389, during which more than 3,000 people died. However, several rabbis and religious leaders fell into grace of sovereigns and emperors like Charles VI who in 1716 decided to grant some autonomy to the Jewish community. During the 19th century, Jewish economic activities spread throughout much of the city and the neighborhood itself was restored and beautified. Despite these advances, anti-Semitism still brewed with some insistence and in 1938 people of Jewish origin were confined in the ghetto. The places of worship and synagogues became deposits where to pile up the goods stolen from the Jews. At the beginning of World War II 50,000 Jews lived in Prague, most of whom were deported to the Terezin concentration camp.
  • What to see: Josefov has many attractions that are worth visiting, such as:
    • The Jewish Cemetery: It is one of the oldest and largest in Europe, with more than 12,000 tombstones and an estimated 100,000 buried people. Due to lack of space, the graves were piled up on top of each other, creating an uneven landscape. Some famous personalities are buried here, such as Rabbi Löw or Franz Kafka’s parents.
    • The Old-New Synagogue: It is the oldest active synagogue in Europe, built in 1270 in Gothic style. It is said that it was built with stones from the Temple of Jerusalem and that it houses the legendary Golem created by Rabbi Löw.
    • The Spanish Synagogue: It is one of the most beautiful synagogues in Prague, built in 1868 in Moorish style. It has a rich decoration with geometric patterns and arabesques. It also hosts concerts and exhibitions.
    • The Maisel Synagogue: It was built in 1592 by Mordecai Maisel, a wealthy mayor of the Jewish Quarter. It was destroyed by a fire in 1689 and rebuilt several times. Today it houses a museum that displays objects related to Jewish history and culture.
    • The Pinkas Synagogue: It was built in 1535 by Aaron Meshulam Horowitz, a prominent member of the Jewish community. It was turned into a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, with their names written on the walls.
    • The Klausen Synagogue: It was built in 1694 on the site of three smaller synagogues that were destroyed by a fire. It has a Baroque facade and a rich interior decoration. It hosts an exhibition on Jewish traditions and customs.
    • The Ceremonial Hall: It was built in 1911-1912 as part of the Jewish Burial Society building. It has a Neo-Romanesque style and displays an exhibition on Jewish medicine and hygiene.
    • The Robert Guttmann Gallery: It is located next to the Ceremonial Hall and hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art related to Jewish themes.
  • How to get there: Josefov is located within walking distance from many attractions in Prague’s Old Town. You can also take public transport such as metro (line A), tram (lines 17 or 18) or bus (lines 207 or 505) and get off at Staroměstská station.
  • Tips: Here are some tips to make your visit more enjoyable:
    • Plan ahead: Josefov is a popular tourist destination and can get crowded during peak hours. To avoid long queues and enjoy a more relaxed visit, try to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
    • Dress appropriately: As Josefov is a religious site, you should respect its dress code and avoid wearing shorts, skirts above the knee or sleeveless shirts. You should also cover your head when entering a synagogue (kippahs are provided at the entrance).
    • Be respectful: Josefov is not only a tourist attraction but also a place of worship and memory for many people. You should behave respectfully and avoid making noise or taking pictures inside the synagogues or cemetery.
    • Learn more: If you want to deepen your knowledge about Josefov and its history, you can visit some museums nearby such as:
      • The Jewish Museum: It is one of the largest and oldest Jewish museums in Europe, founded in 1906. It has several branches located in different buildings within Josefov, such as synagogues or ceremonial halls. It displays a collection of more than 40,000 objects related to Jewish history, culture and art.
      • The Franz Kafka Museum: It is dedicated to one of the most famous writers born in Prague, Franz Kafka (1883-1924). It shows his life and work through documents, photographs, manuscripts and audiovisual materials.
      • The Museum of Decorative Arts: It is located near Josefov and showcases a variety of artistic disciplines such as glass, ceramics, textiles or furniture from different periods and styles.
  • Tours: If you want to explore Josefov with a guide who can tell you more stories and details about this fascinating neighborhood, you can join one of these tours:
    • Jewish Quarter Walking Tour: A 2-hour tour that covers all the main attractions of Josefov with an expert guide who will explain their history and significance.
    • Prague Ghosts and Legends Walking Tour: A 1-hour tour that takes you through some spooky places in Josefov where you will hear tales of ghosts, legends and mysteries.
    • Prague City Bike Tour: A 2-hour tour that lets you discover Josefov and other parts of Prague on two wheels with a friendly guide who will show you hidden gems along the way.
  • Prohibitions: There are some things that you should not do when visiting Josefov:
    • Do not touch or move anything inside the synagogues or cemetery
    • Do not eat or drink inside any building
    • Do not smoke anywhere
    • Do not litter or vandalize

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