The Jewish Museum in Prague is a collection of buildings and sites that came together under one authority and one entrance fee. They are:
The Maisel Synagogue - Jewish history in Bohemia and Moravia
The Pinkas Synagogue - the holocaust memorial as well as collection of childrens drawings and the entrance to the Old Jewish Cematary
The Old Jewish Cemetary - the famous cemetary in the center which is the resting place for most Jewish citizens of Prague until 1787. Entrance is through the Pinkas Synagogue.
The Ceremonial Hall - an exhibit of burial customs and more
The Klausen Synagogue - an exhibit of Jewish customs and more
the Spanish Synagogue - the moorish style Synagogue which houses the silver collection and more
They are all former working synagogues, however now serve as a museum. One entrance tickets pays for all and it is not possible to purchase tickets for just one exhibit. They are all withing easy walking distance of oneanother.
The original aim of the museum when established in 1906 was to preserve valuable artifacts from the Prague synagogues that had been demolished during the reconstruction of the Jewish town at the beginning of the 20th century. The museum was closed to the public after the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939. In 1942 the Nazis established the Central Jewish Museum, to which were shipped artifacts from all the liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia. Its founding was proposed by Dr. Stein who, in co-operation with other specialist members of staff, sought to save the Jewish objects that were being confiscated by the Nazis. Following long negotiations, the Nazis approved the project to set up a central museum.
After World War II, the Jewish Museum came under the administration of the Council of Jewish Communities in Czechoslovakia. In 1950, ownership was transferred to the state, which, as of 1948, was in the hands of the communists. As a result, the museum was markedly restricted in its preservation, exhibition and educational activities.
The collapse of the communist regime in 1989 created the necessary conditions that led to a change in the museums status. On October 1, 1994, the museum buildings and collections were returned to the Jewish Community of Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic respectively.
The Maisel Synagogue
This synagogue was built in 1590 - 1592 by the Mayor of the Jewish Town, Mordechai Maisel, who funded the extensive Renaissance reconstruction of the ghetto. The builders of this synagogue were Josef Wahl and Juda Goldsmied de Herz. The original building was seriously damaged by fire in 1689 and was then renovated in baroque style. In the end, it was considerably rebuilt in neo-gothic style by Prof. A. Grott in 1893-1905. All that remained intact of the original renaissance layout was the ground plan of the tripartite central hall with the upper-storey woman’s section. The Maisel Synagogue is currently used by the Jewish Museum as an exhibition venue and depository.
Exhibit: the history of the Jewish people in Bohemia and Moravia are on display as well as many valuable historical items.
The Spanish Synagogue was built in 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer ("the Old Shul"). It was designed in a Moorish style by Vojtech Ignaz Ulmann. 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, together with the stained glass windows, were designed by architects A. Baum and B. Munzberg and completed in 1893. Frantisek Skroup, the composer of the Czech national anthem, served as an organist here in 1836-45.
Exhibit: Silver objects as well as the sheer beauty of this unusual synagogue. Concerts are performed here often.
The present building is the work of the Horowitz family. In 1535 Aaron Meshullam Horowitz had it built between his house "U Erbu" and the site of the Old Jewish Cemetery. After the Second World War, the synagogue was turned into a Memorial to the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia murdered by the Nazis. On its walls are inscribed the names of the Jewish victims, their personal data, and the names of the communities to which they belonged. In 1968, however, the Memorial had to be closed because ground water had penetrated the buildings foundations, thus endangering the structure. During work on the underground waterproofing of the building, a discovery was made of vaulted spaces with an ancient well and ritual bath. The communist regime held up renovation work and the inscriptions were removed. Not until 1990 was it possible to complete the building alterations. Finally, in 1992-1994, the almost 80,000 names of the Jewish victims of Bohemia and Moravia were rewritten on its walls.
Exhibit: Memorial to the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia. Children’s drawings from Terezin 1942-1944.
The Old Jewish Cemetery
The cemetary was established in the first half of the 15th century. Along with the Old-New Synagogue, it is one of the most important historic sites in Prague’s Jewish Town. The oldest tombstone, which marks the grave of the poet and scholar Avigdor Kara, dates from the year 1439. Burials took place in the cemetery until 1787. Today it contains some 12,000 tombstones, although the number of persons buried here is much greater. The cemetery was enlarged a number of times in the past. In spite of this the area did not suffice and earth was brought in to add further layers. It is assumed that the cemetery contains several burial layers placed on top of each other. The picturesque groups of tombstones from various periods emerged through the raising of older stones to the upper layers.
The most prominent person buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery is without a doubt the great religious scholar and teacher Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known as Rabbi Loew (d. 1609), who is associated with the legend of the Golem. Among the many other prominent persons buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery are: the Mayor of the Jewish Town Mordechai Maisel (d. 1601), the renaissance scholar, historian, mathematician and astronomer David Gans (d. 1613), scholar and historian Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (d. 1655), and rabbi and collector of Hebrew manuscripts and printed books David Oppenheim(d. 1736).
The Klausen Synagogue is located by the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery. It takes its name from the German word "Klaus" meaning "small building", which is derived from the Latin "claustrum". "Klausen" (plural of "Klaus") was the name of the originally three smaller buildings, which Mordechai Maisel, head of the Prague Jewish community, had erected in honor of a visit from Emperor Maximilian II to the Prague ghetto in 1573. After the destruction of the original Clause by the fire of 1689, work began on the present Klausen Synagogue building which was completed in 1604. Further reconstruction of the Klausen Synagogue took place in the 1880s. The Klausen Synagogue held an important place in the history of Prague’s Jewish Town. It was the largest synagogue in the ghetto and the seat of Prague’s Burial Society.
Exhibit: The permanent exhibition of Jewish customs and traditions, which is housed in the main nave of the synagogue, highlights the significance of the synagogue and of specific Jewish festivals. The gallery of the Klausen synagogue contains exhibits associated with the everyday life of the Jewish family and customs connected with birth, circumcision, bar mitzvah, wedding, divorce and the Jewish household.
The building housing the former Ceremonial Hall and mortuary of the Old Jewish Cemetery was built in a new-Romanesque style in 1911-12 to a design by architect J. Gerstl. As part of the Jewish Museum, the Ceremonial Hall of the Prague burial society Hevrah Kaddishah (founded in 1564) later became an exhibition venue.
Exhibit: on the ground and upper floors of the hall are the customs and traditions of burials.
The Old-New Synagogue was built in early Gothic style around the middle of the 13th century. It was originally called the “New” or “Large” Synagogue, as opposed to the older house of prayer which did not survive. It was not until the 16th century, when other synagogues were built in Prague, that it became known as the “Old-New” Synagogue. The main hall is the only existing medieval-type hall of its kind, represented originally by the Romanesque synagogue in Worms (dating from the 12th century) and the early Gothic synagogue in Regensburg. The hall is vaulted by six five-partite vault compartments supported by two octagonal pillars. The Old-New Synagogue, which is not part of the Jewish Museum, is one of the three Prague synagogues, together with the High and Jerusalem Synagogues, in which divine services are held.
The Jerusalem Synagogue
Jubilee Synagogue is also known as the Jerusalem Synagogue. It is also known as the Jerusalem Synagogue because of its location on Jerusalem Street. It was built in 1906, designed by Wilhelm Stiassny and named in honor of the silver Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The synagogue is designed in Moorish Revival form with Art Nouveau decoration, especially in the interior. It was recently renovated and still serves religious purposes. After the Czech Republic became independent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, it became more usual to call the synagogue the Jerusalem Street Synagogue.
The synagogue preserves inscribed plaques removed from the former Zigeuner synagogue, demolished by the urban renewal campaign that was the cause of the building of the Jubilee synagogue.
The facade and form of the synagogue are a hybridized blend of Moorish Revival and art nouveau, with Horseshoe arches on the facade and on the interior columns supporting the women's galleries in a three-bay building. The Mudéjar red-and-white coursing of the stone facade is particularly striking. Inside, the Moorish elements are overlaid with brilliantly painted Art nouveau patterning.
After a century of being open to the public as a house of worship, on April 1, 2008 the Jubilee Synagogue began opening its doors on a regular basis to tourists and aficionados of historic architecture.