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OLD JEWISH CEMETERY

The crumbling Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov) is a moving memorial to the once considerable Jewish community of Prague. This was one of the few burial sites available to the city’s Jews, and graves had to be layered when the plot became full. Estimates put it at about 100,000 graves, with the oldest headstone dating from 1439 and the final burial taking place in 1787. The Old-New Synagogue, built in the 13th century, is situated across the street.

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Gravestones, Old Jewish Cemetery

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Josefov

prac_info Old Jewish Cemetery: U Starého hřbitova 3; 222 317191; open Apr–Oct: 9am–6pm Sun–Fri (Nov–Mar: to 4:30pm); closed Jewish holidays; Adm (ticket valid for 1 week, includes entrance to various synagogues); audio guides available; www.jewishmuseum.cz

prac_info Old-New Synagogue: Červená; open 9am–6pm Sun–Fri (Nov–Mar: to 5pm); Adm (under-6s free); www.synagogue.cz

Google Map

  • In the synagogues, it is customary for men to wear a yarmulka (skull cap). Look for them at the entrance; return them when you leave.
  • The Museum of Decorative Arts’ east windows offer excellent crowd-free views of the cemetery.
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1. Avigdor Kara’s Grave

The oldest grave is that of this poet and scholar, best known for his documentation of the pogrom of 1389, which he survived.

2. Mordechai Maisel’s Grave

Mordechai Maisel (1528–1601), the mayor of the Jewish ghetto during the reign of Rudolf II, funded the synagogue that bears his name.

3. Grave of Rabbi Judah Loew

The grave of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, to whom legend attributes the creation of the Prague Golem, is located here.

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Grave of Rabbi Judah Loew

4. Gothic Tombstones

The eastern wall has fragments of Gothic tombstones rescued from another graveyard near Vladislavova street in 1866. Further graves at another site were found in the 1990s.

5. Klausen Synagogue

Mordechai Maisel also commissioned the building of the Klausen Synagogue on the cemetery’s northern edge. It now houses exhibitions on Jewish festivals and traditions.

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Klausen Synagogue

6. Nephele Mound

Stillborn children, miscarried babies and other infants who died under a year old were buried in the southeast corner of the cemetery.

7. Hendl Bassevi’s Grave

This elaborate tombstone marks the resting place of the “Jewish Queen”, Hendl Bassevi. Her husband, mayor Jacob Bassevi, was raised to the nobility by Ferdinand II and permitted a coat of arms, which can be seen on his wife’s gravestone.

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Tombstone at Hendl Bassevi’s grave

8. David Gans’s Tombstone

Gans’s headstone is marked with a goose and the Star of David, after his name and his faith. A pupil of Loew, Gans (1541–1613) was the author of a seminal two-volume history of the Jewish people. He was also an accomplished astronomer during the time of Johannes Kepler.

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David Gans’s tombstone

9. Grave of Rabbi Oppenheim

Rabbi David Oppenheim was the first chief rabbi of Moravia, and later chief rabbi of Bohemia and finally of Prague, where he died in 1736.

10. Zemach Grave

The gravestone of the printer Mordechai Zemach (d. 1592) and his son Bezalel (d. 1589) lies next to the Pinkas Synagogue. Mordechai Zemach was a co-founder of the Prague Burial Society.

GRAVE SYMBOLS

A Hebrew tombstone (matzevah) as a rule contains the deceased’s name, date of death and eulogy. In addition, the grave markers here often included symbolic images indicating the lineage of the deceased. Names are often symbolized by animals, according to biblical precedent or Hebrew or Germanic translations – David Gans’s tombstone features a goose (gans in German). Some professions are also represented: scissors may appear on a tailor’s tombstone, for example.

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