An incredibly old, sacred place, the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is a sight to behold. Located within the Jewish Quarter, it was the main (and only) cemetery the city’s Jews were allowed for centuries. It’s one of the largest of its kind in Europe, used between the first half of the 1400’s until 1786. The cemetery’s official date of origin is unknown; however, the oldest headstone dates to 1439, belonging to Rabbi Avigdor Kara. It’s an important Jewish historical monument and is managed by the Jewish Museum in Prague.
The cemetery is significant, not only for its age, but also for how it was used. Due to the persecution of Jews within Prague, long before WWII, it was the only cemetery they were allowed (there was a previous Jewish cemetery, called “Jewish Garden”, but it was closed by King Vladislaus II in 1478 and covered to make the streets of New Town). Since the Jews of Prague were sequestered from the rest of the population, they did not have the room to build multiple cemeteries. They were allotted a certain amount of space and had to work with what they had. Therefore, they built UP instead of out. In some parts of the cemetery, the layers of dead are at least 12 deep. Since Orthodox Judaism does not allow cremation or to abolish old graves (i.e. move them), they had to bury them on top of each other. After a layer was filled, they would cover the graves with dirt, and start a new layer.
This practice of layering the dead resulted in the cemetery being a man-made hill. Originally a flat surface, there is now a retaining wall built around the cemetery that is completely due to the man-made, 12-layer, burial hill. This retaining wall is 100% necessary to contain the dirt and keep the graves in place. Due to this practice, they had to raise the gravestones with the layers, which resulted in a sea of gravestones throughout the cemetery. There are upwards of 100,000 bodies buried and over 12,000 gravestones within a 2.5-acre area.
Some notable burials include the creator of the Golem legend in Prague Judah Loew ben Bezalel (??? – 1609), important businessman Mordecai Meisel (1528-1601), historian, astronomer, and mathematician David Gans, (1541-1613), Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664-1736), rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara (???-1439), richest Jew of his time Aharon Meshulam Horowitz (???-1545), and physician and scholar Joseph Soloman Delmedigo (1591-1655).
As mentioned, the cemetery is in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, located at Široká 3, 110 00 Josefov, Prague. It costs 300 Czech Koruna to enter ($12.13 USD) and is not difficult to find. It’s only about a 5-minute walk from Old Town Square or 10-minute walk from Charles Bridge. The hours vary widely, depending on the time of year, so best to check the website before going. However, it will be closed on Saturday, as Saturdays are the Jewish Sabbath day (day of rest). It closed at 6pm while we were visiting (on a Friday), with us arriving around 5:15pm. It afforded us plenty of time to visit the cemetery and the adjacent small museum. It obviously did not allow us enough time to see everything the Jewish Museum of Prague had to offer.
Overall, I highly suggest visiting the Old Jewish Cemetery if you are ever in Prague. Whether you are Jewish or not, it’s astonishing to see, as well as an amazing opportunity to learn about Jewish history in Prague (they will give you an audio recorder containing a brief history lesson on the cemetery). The history is centuries deep, with many important Jewish figures buried within its walls. It’s the perfect place to not only learn, but also pay your respects (speaking of respect – all men, Jewish or not, are required to wear a kippa (yarmulke) while inside the cemetery and museum). If you’re ever in Prague, Czech Republic, please visit this astounding and humbling piece of history.
2 thoughts on “The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic.”
Fabulous pictures- I missed out on visiting when I went to Prague as we were there on a Jewish holiday and it was all closed up. Definitely on the list for next time!
Thank you! 👐🏼 We almost missed out as well, as we arrived around 5pm, and the man we first spoke with at the ticket booth refused to sell us tickets because it closed within the hour. Luckily, we did not give up and tried a different lady selling tickets inside the gift shop, and she let us in. Although, she was *very* adamant that it closed in about 50 minutes and we couldn’t dilly dally lol. Definitely check it out next time! Just maybe get there before 5pm 😅