The weather in Prague today was gorgeous, with mostly sunny skies and a high temperature that reached 75 degrees by mid-afternoon. Dee was in pretty good spirits this morning and pronounced herself "fit for duty", so by 11:30 AM we walked to the metro station for a ride into the Old Town and Jewish Quarter.
We had spent some time in this area during our guided tour earlier in the week, but did not have time to visit the interiors of the synagogues or the Jewish cemetery. Our plan also included an ascent (via elevator) to a viewing gallery at the top of the Town Hall tower, from which vantage point there is a 360-degree view of the surrounding area.
After exiting the Staromestska metro station, it was but a short walk to the Jewish Museum's office, where we purchased tickets for access to eight different synagogues and other sites in the Jewish Quarter. We first visited the interior of the Old-New Synagogue, the exterior facades of which we'd seen during our earlier tour. Prior to entering this 700-year-old landmark, I was issued a traditional yarmulke
with which to cover my head, although it repeatedly slid off onto the
Built during the last third of the 13th-century by stonemasons from the royal workshop, this historic synagogue is said to be the oldest one in Eastern Europe. The interior is pure Gothic, with thick pillars, soaring arches and narrow windows creating a distinctive medieval atmosphere--it was as if we'd entered an underground bomb shelter or bunker of some sort.
The nearby Pinkas Synagogue, a site of worship since the 16th-century, was our next destination. Today the synagogue is best known as a somber memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Its walls are covered with the handwritten inscriptions of over 77,000 Czech Jews sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. The names are carefully organized, with family names colored red, followed by an individual's first name, birthday and date of death (if known); many of the families perished together.
The exit from the Pinkas Synagogue led us directly to the Old Jewish Cemetery, where upwards of 12,000 tombstones mark the grave sites of as many as 85,000 Jews. Between 1439 until 1787, this cemetery was the only site allowed for the Jews of Prague and, as a result, graves had
to be piled on top of each other--layered seven or eight deep. Layer by layer, the cemetery grew into a small mound rising well above street level. With the passage of time, this mound settled, and most of the tombstones became crooked.
We ran into a bit of a snag at the cemetery, when Dee decided to wait at the exit from the synagogue, while I continued on to the long and meandering path through the cemetery. Little did we know that the exit from the cemetery spills out in a completely different place, far from where Dee was patiently waiting for me. When I realized the problem, I was forced to walk back through the cemetery--like a salmon trying to swim upstream--until I reached the point where Dee was waiting. Meanwhile, she had no idea what was taking me so long, and wondered whether she should stay put, or start walking into the cemetery. It sounds comical now, but at the time it was a little freaky!
Following our harrowing experience at the cemetery, we paused for lunch at a nearby cafe, where Dee tried the goulash soup with a side salad, and I ordered what turned
out to be a monster piece of schnitzel with mashed potatoes. Two Pilsner beers helped wash everything down, and the lunch tab turned out to be very reasonable.
The Spanish Synagogue, completed in 1868, was our last stop in the Jewish Quarter. This synagogue, which is built in Moorish style, sits close to a tiny park near a modern statue of the famous Czech writer, Franz Kafka. Although it's the newest synagogue in the area of the so-called Jewish Quarter, it was built at the site of the presumably oldest synagogue that burned down during a pogrom in 1389. The interior decor of this synagogue, including a magnificent dome above the main hall, is by far the most stunning of all the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter. The synagogue itself is two stories high, with a main hall surrounded by three built-in balconies, one of which includes a beautiful stained-glass window.
After leaving the Spanish Synagogue, we headed for the Old Town Square, where things were rocking and rolling when we arrived. A huge crowd was gathered to enjoy some DJs playing music at a deafening level, while a jumbo video screen displayed the hyped-up antics of the
onlookers. Many street food vendors were selling their goodies around the perimeter of the square, including one place that was roasting what appeared to be half a pig on a spit with a hickory-fueled wood fire. It was a pretty wild and crazy scene, but everyone seemed to be having a good time on this pleasant Sunday afternoon.
We wanted to see if we could ride the special elevator in the Town Hall that takes paying customers to the viewing gallery atop the 70-meter-high tower--the same tower upon which the famous Astronomical Clock is mounted. This Gothic tower, which dates from the 14th-century, is a dominant feature of the entire square. A modern glass elevator whisked us up to the viewing level in no time, where we enjoyed magnificent views of the square beneath us, in addition to the many spires, towers and domes that are part of Prague's medieval skyline. Dee's Comments:
Well, since I'm now chock full of antibiotics, I decided to take a leap of faith today by hitting the cobblestones, which I'm very thankful I did. We had a lovely day exploring in the Jewish Quarter, which was just a short walk from the
View from Town Hall tower
Twin spires of Tyn Church
metro stop. Here we were immersed in Jewish history, as we visited the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Oh, and let's not forget the Jewish Cemetery where, as Mitch describes above, we became separated until he was able to find his way back to where I was waiting--not a happy experience.
We saw many points of interest today, including a clock with hands that run backward, three synagogues, a cemetery, exhibits of Jewish artifacts and a monumental statue honoring the Czech writer, Franz Kafka. Our lunch was very good, after which we ventured into the Old Town Square, where we went to the top of the Town Hall tower for a panoramic view of the entire city. After returning home via the metro, I was feeling pretty good.
I don't want to kid myself, but I feel like I'm on the mend now. My biggest fear of traveling has always been that one of us might get sick, but I never expected I would need a doctor to prescribe penicillin for a strep infection! Maybe I should be consuming more bourbon? LOL!
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