Located at the corner of Dusni Street and Vezenska Street in the Jewish Quarter of Prague (or Josefev, as it is called) is The Spanish Synagogue, one of the seven buildings which make up the Jewish Museum. The Spanish Synagogue has the distinction of being the newest synagogues of the Museum, while also being built on the site of the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Prague.
“Old Shul” was built in the 11th or 12th centuries and was the oldest synagogue in the city. Though it was destroyed and rebuilt many times, Old Shul was demolished for good in the 1860’s to make way for The Spanish Synagogue. Designed by Vojt?ch Ignátz Ullmann, the building as seen today was not the originally submitted design, but the second submission by Ullman as the first was unable to gain approval. Construction began on the current design in 1868 and features an exterior with a tall tripartite façade topped by two domed turrets in the center, flanked by lower wings on either side – a design almost identical to Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna, Austria.
A large, central dome dominates the regular square plan of an incredible interior design which features a low stucco arabesque of Islamic motifs. These motifs can also be seen on the doors, walls and gallery balustrades; together with colored tiles and stained glass windows – all of which were designed by architects Baum and Munzberg – the elaborate and detailed work has caused some to call the interior of the Spanish Synagogue the most beautiful synagogue in Europe.
While the Germans occupied Prague during World War II, the synagogue had the unfortunate distinction of being used to hold the property taken from interned Jews, many of whom were likely patrons of the ornately decorated building. Starting with the Nazis and continuing through the country’s Communist rule, the once prestigious and beautiful Spanish Synagogue fell into squalor and disrepair until it was closed.
After more than twenty years of having its doors closed, a massive effort was undertaken to restore the Spanish Synagogue to its previously pristine condition. The Jewish Museum began a $1.5 million restoration project and the doors were opened again on the 130th anniversary of its establishment.
As part of the Museum of the Jewish Quarter the Spanish synagogue focuses primarily on history of Jewish life in Josefov in the 1800’s, though it also contains a significant the history of the Bohemian and Moravian Jews from their emancipation at the end of the 18th century to the end of World War II. Additionally, there is ample documentation of the tumult which occurred among the Jewish population of Josefov as they were sent to concentration camps.
In addition to the history lessons found with the walls of the Spanish Synagogue are the concerts regularly performed in its halls. Classical music concerts are held regularly, featuring the music of Jewish composers.
Visiting the Spanish Synagogue is fairly easy, with public transportation (Metro: Staromestska, line A) close by, a casual dress code and wheelchair accessibility. The cost to visit the Spanish Synagogue is 300CZK (about £10), though this price includes all six sites that make up the Jewish Museum. This fee does not include any kind of tour and taking pictures requires a photo pass and that is an additional fee.The hours of operation vary according to season and the Jewish Museum is closed on Jewish holidays and the Sabbath (Saturday).
April 1 to October 31: 9:00am to 6:00pm
November 1 to March 31: 9:00am to 4:30pm