|The Jewish Quarter today.|
The Jews of Prague had not always lived in the flood zone of the nearby Vltava River. Historians believe that they had lived nearer to the castle, far from the destruction of the annual deluge. However, in 1096 as the first crusaders marched their way through Prague on their way to relinquish the Holy Land, they commenced a pogrom which pushed the surviving Jews to settle into the somewhat safer region outside of the four other Prague sections (the Castle Quarter, New Town, Old Town and the Little Quarter).
|The entrance to the Old New Synagogue with Barbara|
So why does Josefov look so different today - even more elegant than some of the historically prosperous quarters of Prague? Between 1893 and 1913 the ghetto was largely demolished (with the exception of the synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery) and rebuilt after the city model used for the reconstruction of several other European cities such as Vienna and Paris. This remodel gave one of the poorest and most destitute parts of Prague the Victorian appearance it has today.
|The Old New Synagogue|
|Inside the Old New Synagogue|
Another popular legend of this Old New Synagogue involves a creature created out of clay and stone to protect the Jews of Prague by Rabbi Loew from anti-Semitic violence in the 16th century. The Golem, a creature who literally obeyed instructions given to it and searched for those with evil thoughts, eventually went on a murderous rampage and had to be destroyed. It is said that they pieces of the shattered Golem are kept in the attic of the Old New Synagogue, waiting to be reconstructed if the need arises.
|He's watching you...|
Side note: I highly recommend the Hotel Hastal – it has an extremely interesting history of its own, once being the site of espionage and a regular hangout for such artists as Alphonse Mucha and Franz Kafka. Plus, very nice staff and free wine and coffee 24/7 in the lobby!
General tips if you go:1) Wear really, really good shoes for this walking tour. The cobblestones in Prague are killer, even for these well-traveled feet.
2) Bring a bottle of water. Restaurants charge even for tap water and Prague does not have as many free flowing drinking fountains as other European cities.
3) Always carry 10 Korun and 20 Korun coins with you. Once free, public toilets are now pay-to-pee. Many of these places will also take Euro coin, but it will cost you about twice as much.
4) Get a map ASAP. Seriously.