Old New Synagogue

The Old New Synagogue is a Key Historical Landmark in Prague’s Jewish Quarter It was always the main synagogue of the community, it is still an active house of worship. The synagogue was completed in 1270 and was one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in the area. The contradictory name “Old New Synagogue” arose from an effort to distinguish this worship site from an even older building that was demolished in 1867. Originally, the Old New Synagogue was called the New or Great Shul.

A legend surrounds the synagogue explaining its survival despite, vicious pogroms, devastating world wars, communism and ambitious 20th century reconstruction. According to lore, the synagogue is built with stones from the sacred King Solomon’s Temple. How did the stones find their way to Prague? They were carried by angels. These same angels are said to have protected the synagogue over the tumultuous centuries, where it continually served as a house of worship, except for between the years of 1941 and 1945 during Nazi occupation and the holocaust. One of the most famous worshipers was Franz Kafka and was the site of his Bar Mitzvah.

Not a museum, this synagogue is a great stop for tourists in search of an authentic look into the life of area residents. The gothic architecture itself belies its historical significance to the area. The oldest example in existence of a medieval twin-nave structure, this single-story synagogue features the classic central prayer hall for men. Typically the women’s gallery of synagogues is upstairs to follow Orthodox doctrine, which requires men and women to be separated during services. But because of the single story design, women worship, literally, from the sidelines in a corridor-like area. The Ark, containing sacred Torah scrolls, is housed on the East side of the synagogue.

A a red flag with the iconic Jewish symbol, a Star of David, hangs over the bimah. (The bimah is the prayer and reading area of the synagogue.) In 1357 the banner flew as the official city flag in the Jewish Quarter. The fact that Charles IV, Ruler of the Holy Roman Empire at the time, allowed this was notable as well as hopeful in a time of consistent anti-Semitic sentiment.

Also hanging with the flag is what looks like a tattered red banner at first sight. In fact, it was a gift from the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III to the Jews. Emperor Ferdinand presented the gift as a token of thanks to Jews for their role in averting a Swedish invasion in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years War.

Specifically, the Old New Synagogue is located on Maiselova Street in the Josefov section the Old Jewish Quarter. The Synagogue is open every day of the year for tourists except for Saturdays and Jewish Holidays. The Synagogue opens each day at 9:30 and stays open until 5 p.m. from March through November and until 6 p.m. from April through October. The entrance fee for Adults is 200 CZK. For students and those 15 and under the fee is 140 CZK. Those 6 and under are permitted free admittance.