National Jewish Museum, Spanish and Klausen Synagogues

National Jewish Museum, Spanish and Klausen Synagogues (22)

At the end of the 19th century, the insalubrious district of narrow streets and slums where Prague’s Jewish community was crammed, was demolished by order of Emperor Joseph II. As a result of this urban project only a few synagogues and buildings remained standing, which today are grouped under the direction of the National Jewish Museum and which can be visited using just one ticket. The most important are the Maisel, Pinkas, Klausen and Spanish synagogues. Between them they outline the centuries-old history of one of the most important Jewish communities in Europe.

The Klausen synagogue takes its name from the small praying houses, also called “klausen”, which stood here alongside other Jewish schools. All of them were burnt down in the great fire of 1689, supposedly caused by King Louis XIV’s men. In 1694 the new synagogue was already finished, very much in early Baroque style with its rich ornamentation.

The Klausen synagogue houses an exhibition about the customs, traditions and festivals of the Jewish people and about their history in Central Europe from the Middle Ages. You will also find some of Rabbi Löw’s possessions, to who the legend of the creation of the clay man is attributed, the mythical Golem.

Next to this synagogue a small building was built similar to a medieval castle. It is the ceremony hall of the old Jewish Funerary Company, built in 1906. Today it is the keeper of historical documents, such as Hebrew manuscripts and engravings. Prague was one of the most important Hebrew printing centres in Europe for several centuries.

The Spanish synagogue has the honour of standing where the first synagogue in Prague was built, called the “Old School”. If we go back in time to the 11th century, then we would understand its importance, since the Old School was the centre of religious life for the Jewish observers of Oriental rites. The Jews who observed Western rites were concentrated in the Old-New synagogue.

The current building dates from the second half of the 19th century. Since it was opened to the public, it has housed an exhibition about the history of the Jews in Bohemia. When you come to the Spanish synagogue, you can decide for yourself whether or not the decoration that adorns it can be compared to the Alhambra in Granada... or at least recalls it a little. In fact the name of the Spanish synagogue comes from those who thought that its Moorish style of ornamentation had reminiscences of the Alhambra of Granada. It is also possible, of course, that it gets its name from the Spanish Jews who arrived here after being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula.

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