One of the most popular tourist destinations in Prague is the Old Jewish Cemetery, also known as “Beth Chaim” (House of Life). It is located in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter, the former Jewish ghetto. It is one of the few historic Jewish cemeteries left in Europe. The Nazis destroyed many Jewish cemeteries but preserved this one because Hitler was planning to build a Jewish Museum in Prague once his genocide was complete.
The Old Jewish Cemetery was in use for more than 300 years, and there are more than 200,000 Jews buried there. The dead are buried in layers, as many as 12 deep, which is not uncommon in areas where space is at a premium. More than 12,000 headstones stand to mark these graves, so closely crowded together as to nearly block out all the grass between them. The oldest grave in the cemetery is that of Avigdor Kara who died in 1439 and the last person to be buried there was Moses Beck in 1787.
There are many famous people buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery, one of the best known is Rabbi Loew (1525-1609). Rabbi Loew was a venerated teacher that became friends with Rudolph II, the Hapsburg Emperor who was then ruler of the land. Through his position as a favorite at court, Rabbi Loew was able to help the Jews of Prague. Legend has it he created a Golem, a powerful monster made from mud and under his control, to protect the Jews. There is a story that Rabbi Loew once had to interrupt a Sabbath service to deal with his monster running amok, and while he was gone the congregation kept repeating the same verse until he returned. Even today, at the Old-New Synagogue just a block from the Old Jewish Cemetery, they repeat a line in the Sabbath service in memory of this amazing event. Another famous person buried in the cemetery is philanthropist Mordechai Maisel (1528-1601), once the richest man in Prague, mayor of the Jewish Town, and a protector of the Jewish community. He built the Jewish town Hall and founded the Maisel Synagogue.
The Old Jewish Cemetery opens at 9AM and it is advisable to get there early as it can get crowded. Closing time is 6:30 PM Tuesday to Thursday, and 6 PM Friday to Monday, it is closed Saturdays. Admission 290 CZK ($14/£6.90) for adults, 190 CZK ($9/£4.50) for students, and free for children under 6. The cemetery is located near both the Pinkas and Klausen Synagogues. Men must cover their heads before entering the cemetery, paper hats are provided to those with bare heads.