Zlata Praha (Golden Prague), the city of a hundred golden spires, is one of the prettiest cities in the world. Divided by the Vltava (Moldau) River, Prague was fortunate not to have suffered destruction in World War II.
PRAGUE: THE CITY OF 100 SPIRES
With a history of over 1000 years, Prague is considered the soul of Bohemia. In 1939, the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia. After World War II, independence was restored but the country was soon to be dominated by the Soviet Union.
With the 1989 election of President Vaclav Havel, Communism was ousted in what was called the "Velvet Revolution". At midnight, on December 31, 1992, there was a quiet "Velvet Divorce" ceremony in which the country separated into two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Lesser (or Little) Quarter (Mala Strana), Quarter is reached by crossing the Charles Bridge that spans the Vltava River. This bridge, built in the 13th century, is renowned for its 30 statues.
AN ARCH OF THE CHARLES BRIDGE
New Town, (Nove Mesto), is the location of Wenceslas Square which, in reality, is more of a long boulevard than a square. It is also the location of "Fred and Ginger" (The "Dancing House"), named after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This ultra-contemporary, swaybacked structure, whose twirling twin towers appear to be dancing, was designed by architect Frank Gehry.
FRED AND GINGER…FRANK GEHRY'S DANCING HOUSE
Old Town, (Stare Mesto), beginning at Powder Tower, has among its attractions the house where the famed author Franz Kafka was born, the Town Hall, and its famous 15th century Astronomical Clock. The clock's carved figures of Death, Vanity, Greed, and the 12 Apostles put on their ever-repeating hourly march. Here too is Josefov, the old Jewish Quarter whose exquisite structures document Jewish history.
15TH CENTURY ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK IN OLD TOWN
Josefov, named after Emperor Josef II who relaxed many of the discriminating laws against Prague's Jewish community, was once home to more than 50,000 Jews. Today there are only 3000 registered Jews in the entire Czech Republic, with approximately 1500 of them residing in Prague. Yet Prague's ancient Jewish Quarter is one of the main tourist attractions in the city .
The Jewish Museum, that manages most of the Jewish sights in Josefov, "is today an inspiring example of an institution governed by conscience and memory." Included under the auspices of the museum are the following:
The Maisel Synagogue was built in 1590-92 and considerably rebuilt from 1893-1905. Named after a 16th century mayor of the ghetto, it is currently used by the Jewish Museum as exhibition space for liturgical silver and other religious objects. The Ceremonial Hall, adjoining the Maisel Synagogue looks like a tiny medieval castle. It now houses a permanent exhibition of drawings made by children who were confined in Terezin concentration camp.
The Spanish Synagogue, built in the second half of the 19th century on the site of Prague's first (11th century) synagogue, got its name from the pseudo-Moorish style in which it was built. After years of refurbishment, the synagogue reopened on the 130th anniversary of its founding. The Pinkas Synagogue, founded in 1479, is the second oldest synagogue in Prague. The interior of this touching memorial to the Holocaust is inscribed with the names of the 77,297 Czech Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
The Klausen Synagogue, a Baroque structure completed in 1694, houses many exhibits including those relating to the 16th century Rabbi Low who created the legendary robot called "Golem" out of clay. Legend has it that Golem was brought to life by Rabbi Low who read prayers and wrote God's name on a piece of paper that he put in Golem's mouth. During the day, Golem helped the rabbi. At night, he walked the street protecting Jews from their enemies, which he intimidated with his size and strength.
When Rabbi Low decided to end Golem's life because he was no longer needed, he carried Golem to the attic of the Old-New Synagogue and said the same prayers as before, only backwards. In the end, only a pile of clay remained. Today, images of the Golem are seen throughout the Jewish Quarter on everything from postcards, to tee shirts, to works of art.
THE OLD-NEW SYNAGOGUE IN THE JEWISH QUARTER
The Old Jewish Cemetery, founded in 1478, is the burial site of Rabbi Low. Over 12,000 gravestones are crammed into this area where some 100,000 people are said to be buried on top of one another in stacks that are 10-12 bodies deep.
OLD JEWISH CEMETERY IN PRAGUE
The Old-New Synagogue, not under the auspices of the Jewish Museum, is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe (1270) and one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Prague. The synagogue is tucked beneath the Baroque Clock Tower of the Jewish Town Hall. The Clock Tower has two clocks. The first has traditional numbers; the second has Hebrew figures. As Hebrew reads from right to left, so the hands on the second clock turn in an anti-clockwise direction.
For a tasty meal, pass through the gates at Savarin Palace and you will find yourself in the middle of mystical Morocco. Here, Casablanca Restaurant serves Middle-eastern specialties in an authentic atmosphere. (Na Prikope 10).
Prague is a magical city that belongs on everyone's "must-see" travel list. Once a diamond in the rough, it has emerged as a sparkling gem atop a velvet pillow. A pillow created by a Velvet Revolution.
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel Consultant, and winner of 40 national Travel Writing Awards.