The Old Town and the Jewish Quarter

Prague Travel Blog

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Beautiful building in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

I have this weird thing: when I'm at home going about my usual business, the only thing I have for breakfast is a bowl of yoghurt. However, when I'm in a hotel and there is a nice breakfast buffet, I can't stop eating. I guess it has something to do with the fact that it is all laid out in front of me and I didn't have to prepare it, or clean it up.

The buffet at The Sovereign Hotel looks (and tastes!) so good with different kinds of cheese, all sorts of bread, fruit, sweet cakes and of course eggs in every form and shape that I decide to skip lunch at the spot. And dinner.

Once I've finally finished eating (husband Rens is once again amazed by the amount of food that just disappeared right in front of him), we are on our way and take a different route to the Old Town of Prague.

Theatre of the Estates in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

Within a block or two, we're both completely captivated by all the beautiful buildings and we forget to notice the street signs. But who cares? The classic architecture of every single house is so gorgeous, all you can do is stare at all the stunning facades and photograph every single detail. It is amazing to see that there is not a single building that is even slightly worn down. Next to that, the streets are all perfectly clean and there is hardly any traffic.

We end up at the Theatre of the Estates, another attractive historic building. In the year 1787 Amadeus Mozart conducted the world premiere of his opera Don Giovanni here, and an eye-catching statue outside the entrance of the theatre commemorates this fact.

When we finally arrive at the Old Town Square, it's 10:45 in the morning and there is a huge crowd of people standing in front of the astronomical clock.

This statue remembers the fact that Mozart's Don Giovanni was performed in the Theatre of the Estates for the very first time on October 29th, 1787 (Prague, Czech Republic)
This clock is part of the southern wall of the Old Town City Hall and dates back to the year 1410. It is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial that represents the position of the sun and moon and other astronomical details, the 'Walk of the Apostles', which is an hourly show of figurines that represent the apostles, and a calendar dial with medallions that represent the month.

Apparently, everyone is waiting for the clock to hit eleven o'clock, since the Walk of Apostles happens every full hour. We choose to join them, and after a bit of trouble we find a spot between the hundreds of people who are all staring at that clock, waiting for something to happen.

We both don't like big crowds, but every once in a while you can't escape them if there is a popular attraction, so we try to ignore the dozens of people who are riding up against us.

Theatre of the Estates in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

When the clock finally reaches the full hour, a short bell rings, and two small doors just above the clock open. I can vaguely see some figurines passing by the opening, but they are quite small. Then, seconds after the doors have opened, they close again, and the show is over. I laugh out loud because of this huge anticlimax.

A guy dressed up as a medieval knight starts playing a trumpet at the top of the tower, but this doesn't help the fact that this is a hugely overrated sight. The clock is absolutely beautiful, and certainly worth a long and close look, but this 'Walk of Apostles' is only slightly interesting if you point your camera with a huge zoom capacity at it.   

The rest of the Old Town Square is amazing, lined with buildings that are even more stunning than the ones we saw on our way towards the square.

Theatre of the Estates in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)
Just below the famous tower of the Tyn church, we find the entrance to a combined exhibition of Salvador Dali and Alfons Mucha, a Czech artist whose work is indissolubly tied to Jugendstil and Prague. We can choose to visit a separate exhibition or both, but since Salvador Dali is one of our all time favorite artists, we buy a combination ticket for both exhibitions. Both of them turned out to be very worthwhile, the displays of Dali's work are extraordinary and although we had never heard of Alfons Mucha, we are instant fans.

The centre of the Old Town Square is full of wooden stalls that sell souvenirs, painted Easter eggs (the Easter weekend is only a few days away) and lots of local food. When we smell the wonderful scents that come from all those stalls, we forget we had a huge breakfast and want to try just about everything. Rens tries the ham, while I (the vegetarian) go for potato pancakes with cabbage. Even though there is a lot more flavors around, we are quite satisfied with these tasty dishes.

Beautiful building in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

 

Our next stop is the Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov. It's located between the Old Town Square and the river, and therefore within walking distance. This part of town dates back to the 13th century, when the Jewish community in Prague was ordered to leave their homes and settle in one area. 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 trades they were allowed to conduct underwent constant change.

The first sight we run into is the spectacular Rudolfinum. It was build in 1884 and named in honour of Crown Prince Rudolf of Habsburg. Today it is home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Beautiful building in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

We then walk towards the Jewish Cemetery, which was founded in 1478, but this appears to be closed. We can look through an opening in a gate and notice that nobody is walking between the old headstones, while there is quite a lot of tourists walking around Prague this time of year.

Right next to the cemetery we find the Maisel Synagogue, which houses a collection of Jewish art.

If we hadn't been to the amazing Israel Museum in Jerusalem a few years ago and if were in the mood to visit another museum next to the exhibition of Dali and Mucha we saw earlier, we would definitely go in. Today we prefer to skip it.

On the other side of the museum we see the Ceremonial Hall and mortuary, which is right next to the Klausen Synagogue.

Market in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)
The Ceremonial Hall is a very nice building, and as it turns out there is an exhibit called 'Jewish Customs and Traditions'. Next to that, you can also step onto a tiny spot of the Jewish Cemetery from this Hall, and have a better look at it than we had through the gate. It seems there is no free access to the Cemetery, which is why we couldn't see anyone there.

However, from what we can find out, is that we have to buy a very expensive ticket for all sights in the Jewish Quarter (all six synagogues and the entire museum) just so we can enter the small Ceremonial Hall. And this ticket doesn't include entrance to the only synagogue we wish to see: The Old-New Synagogue. Our desire to see the Ceremonial Hall and a glimpse of the cemetery has quickly diminished because of this construction.

We walk to the Old-New Synagogue and pay a staggering 16 euros for two entrance tickets for the oldest synagogue in Europe (it was finished in 1275), so expectations are quite high.

Beautiful building in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)
Once we are inside we see a wide corridor where women stand to watch the service through narrow slits in the hall. Then there is the small main hall which is quite nice.

The thing is, is that you can see the entire inside of the synagogue with a few minutes, and just because it is very old and pleasant to look at for a brief moment, doesn't mean it is fair to charge 8 euros a person for travelers who have no idea it is that small. The synagogue is enjoyable, but absolutely not worth such a high entrance fee. The art deco building right next to it, which houses a restaurant, is at least just as interesting and this is free to look at. We end up leaving the Jewish Quarter feeling a bit deceived.   

The sun keeps on shining brightly, and Prague is such a wonderful city to walk around in, that our negative feelings vanish in an instant.

Beautiful building in the Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

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photo by: vulindlela