The Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is a small district not far from Old Town Square. The quarter covers the area between the square and Vltava river. Its history dates back to the 13th century, when Prague's Jewish community was ordered to move into and settle in the walled ghetto.
Two most important monuments in Prague's Jewish town are the Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov) and the oldest working synagogue in Europe, Gothic Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagóga).
The Old Jewish Cemetery was established in the first half of the 15th century. Actually the oldest tombstone, which marks the grave of the poet and scholar Avigdor Karo, dates from the year 1439. This was the only cemetery for Jews until 1787 in Prague. Nobody knows exactly how many persons are buried here. Some history books say 20.000 people, other almost 100.000.
The cemetery was enlarged a number of times in the past. People had to be buried on top of each other because of lack of space. The picturesque groups of tombstones from various periods emerged through the raising of older stones to the upper layers. The cemetery contains about 12 layers and some 12,000 tombstones.
The most prominent graves are those of Mayor of the Jewish Town Mordechai Maisel, who died in 1601, and religious scholar and teacher Rabi Löw, died 1609, who is associated with the legend of the Golem.
Gothic Old-New Synagogue is one of the most valuable Jewish historical buildings and the oldest synagogue in which the divine services took place in entire Europe. Old-New Synagogue, the heart of Prague's Jewish Town, dates back to 13th century.
Lots of legends enshroud the building into the mysterious history. One of them says, that angels came with the stones, from which the church is built and that the angels have protected it ever since (the church has avoided to big fires). The stones are supposed to be brought from the Second Temple in Jerusalem that was demolished in 70 A.D.
Other legend is closely connected to Golem - a monster looking like a human being made of clay by Rabi Löw in the 16th century. He was created to defend the Prague Jewish ghetto from Anti-Semitic attacks. According to a legend, the monster could be blossomed out by a secret piece of parchment put into his mouth.
Golden Age of Jewish Prague was the reign of Rudolf II in the 17th century. In these times, Jewish population topped a third of Prague's entire population. The 'ghetto' flourished with intellectual life and economic prosperity.
Austrian Emperor Maria Theresa expelled Jews from Prague in 1745. She accused them with collaboration with the Prussian army.
In 1848 the gates of the Prague ghetto were opened, and the ghetto walls were torn down. The quarter was renamed Josefov in 1850 (in the remembrance of Emperor Joseph II who outlawed all forms of discrimination in 1780).
Vast redevelopment of the area took place between 1893 and 1913. Its present appearance dates mainly from this period, although most of the significant buildings from previous eras were saved including several synagogues.
Prague's Jewish community now counts around 6 thousand people. There are six synagogues, including Pinkas Synagogue or Spanish Synagogue, in the area.
One of the main avenues leading from the Old Town Sqaure to the Hotel Intercontinetal based on the river bank is Pařížská Avenue, built after Jewish quarter reconstruction in French Art Noveau style. The Avenue is considered to be a 'most expensive Prague's streets' with many style shops of world brands and exclusive bars.