Golems, Cemeteries & Castles: Prague Day Two

My first day of sightseeing was great!  There’s so much to see in Prague, my second was jam packed with more stuff!  And I was lucky enough a couple I met on New Year’s Eve was also staying a few more days.
Powder Tower

We started off our second day with a view from the tall tower.  It was only a few krons.  It was a nice way to started on a full day of sightseeing.

DSCF5138

Jews of Prague

Jews started settling in Prague as early as the 10th century.  However, in the 13th century they were forced to live in a segregated ghetto (a practice common through most of Eastern Europe).  Josefov is the ghetto they were forced to live in.  Though it doesn’t look like it now, the conditions in Josefov were appalling.  Jews were rarely allowed to leave the ghetto and pogroms occurred every once in awhile.

What is a Golem and why do I keep hearing about it? 

A legend you will hear a lot of references to is the legend of the Golem.  If you’ve watch Inglorious Basterds, this word is mentioned and everywhere in Josefov there’s little references to the legend.  The word Golem actually predates The Lord of the Rings (lol).  It’s a Jewish legend that using clay and Torah scripture you can bring to life a being that will serve you for 12 hours.   The literal translation of Golem in Hebrew is “shapeless mass.” The Golem is only referenced in Psalms 139:16.  In Prague, the Golem was supposedly invoked by the Rabbi Lowe to protect his people from pogroms and harassment. However the Golem went out of control and Rabbi Lowe, the creator, had to destroy it. DSCF5181.JPG

Why are all the synagogues intact? 

You might ask.  If you have traveled through Europe you notice most synagogues were either completely destroyed or gutted to be used as storage.  Josefov was left in somewhat decent condition by the Nazis because they wanted to make this neighborhood a museum, “The Museum of the Extinct Race.”  It was meant to be the only thing left of the Jewish people.  How f***ing horrific is that?

Anyway, I’m glad much of the neighborhood remains intact because when the Germans lost the war The Jewish Museum raised money to renovate the neighborhood.   You have to buy a ticket depending on how many of the synagogues you want to go to. Since we didn’t have a lot of time we just went to two synagogues and the Jewish cemetery. We wanted to fit in the Castle Vysehrad.

The Sights

Spanish Synagogue got its name for its stunning Moorish architecture. It’s one of the most impressive pieces of architecture I saw in Prague.  It has actually never been used for a Spanish congregation, as far as anyone knows. The relics on display are beautiful.  However, if you are not Jewish you may feel a bit lost about what you are looking at.  During the Nazi and Communist occupation the synagogue was in ruins.  It was closed over 20 years until the Jewish Museum had the funds to restore it.

Pinkas Synagogue is the second oldest preserved Synagogue in Prague.  It’s in a Gothic style from 1535. In 1955, the synagogue was converted into a memorial for the 80,000 victims of Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust). However, during the communist regime, the synagogue was closed.  It reopened in 1995 after the fall of the Communist regime.  It has 80,000 names of the Bohemian and Moravian victims of the Shoah. It’s a beautiful memorial. DSCF5174

There is a permanent exhibit about Terezin Ghetto. Terezin was the propaganda ghetto. They kept children there to film for ads.  They made them do art projects, shows and more to show people that Jews were living a happy life in concentration camps.  Most of the children were eventually transferred into Auschwitz then gassed upon arrival.  Many of the art projects were preserved and now in display in various museums including Pinkas.

(If you want to see a short film about Terezin go to this link. I don’t own any rights to it)DSCF5202.JPG

Jewish Cemetery is part of The Pinkas Synagogue.  If you go, it is common to leave stones on the graves.  It was used between the 1400’s-1700’s.  The oldest grave is of Avigdor Kara from 1439.  It isn’t certain how many people are buried here.  There are just rows and rows of graves.  People were often buried on top of each other for efficiency. There are 12,000 stones visible and by Jewish law you are not supposed to remove the stones.  It’s estimated there are 12 layers of bodies here. (Spooky!)

I always make time for a castle

Then we took the tram all the way down to Vysehard Castle or Castle on the Heights.  This was a castle built after the Prague Castle in 1085. It’s free to enter.  The complex has a beautiful art nouveau church called St. Peter and Paul.  There’s also a beautiful cemetery on the grounds.  The grounds aren’t that large.  We went around sunset and got a beautiful view.  Everyone was out walking their dogs and going for jogs.  We stopped inside a cute little café and got some chips and mulled wine.  The dogs run around off leash and we got to pet a few.  It felt like a more local vibe.  It was nice to be out of city center.

Then we walked up to the Dancing House.  The property has a lot of significance.  The neighborhood was demolished by U.S. Bombings during World War Two in 1945.  Vaclav Havel spent most of his life there.  Havel became a big part of the Velvet Revolution.  He wanted to do something important with the site.  The building was designed by Vlado Milunic.  It was completed by 1996.  The designed pissed everyone off.  People didn’t want modern architecture but eventually people got used to it. It’s now a place for artistic activity.  It had some modern art on display and an installation.  Then we stopped for dinner at a nice little pub.

*much of my information is pulled from City Walk Prague and Ulmon as well as things I learned when I was I Prague.

Day 3 I did The Alternative Prague tour which I loved.  I will post a separate post about that.  There’s just so much!!!

Please, check out my blog post about 24 Hours in Prague and my blog post about Using Technology Abroad. 

 I hope you enjoy!

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