by: Edgar Asher
Friday, 11 October 2019 | The Czech Republic has become one of the major tourist destinations in Europe, receiving annually over 20 million visitors. The capital, Prague, is the country’s most popular destination, by itself receiving over 8 million visitors annually. As a visitor walks the streets and lanes of the city, it is hard to believe that the Czech Republic and its capital, Prague, were under the rule of Russia until the country was liberated in 1969 in what became known as the velvet revolution. In the early 1970s there were few visitors and many buildings in Prague, and the major cities were in a state of disrepair.
The Jewish connection to the city goes back at least to the 16th century. However, the fate of the Jews varied depending on who was in control of the city. Jews were expelled twice in the 16th century, but each time were able to return and prosper. By the early part of the 18th century, the Jews were about a quarter of the city’s population.
During the Second World War it was said that Hitler had in mind the idea to make Prague a museum of a destroyed people—the Jews. As the Nazi armies moved across Europe, many Jewish treasures were taken from Jewish homes and synagogues and moved to Prague. The Germans intended that after they had won the war and killed all the Jews that Prague would then be a showplace of the Fuhrer’s success.
Apart from the connection with the horrors of the Second World War period, the city has many unique connections with past Jewish communities. The synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery still stand and are a testament to earlier and better times for Prague’s Jews. The cemetery was in active use for about four hundred years, and during this period an estimated 200,000 Jews were buried there. Due to its small area, many graves are one on top of another, in some cases twelve tombs deep. The most famous Jewish scholar, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, better known as the Maharal of Prague, is buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery.
Prague is also a city renowned for its clocks. Two of these clocks attract thousands of visitors each year. One clock is on a tower above the Old Jewish Town Hall in the city’s Jewish quarter. The other is situated on one side of Prague’s town hall.
The clock above the Old Jewish Town Hall was first installed in the latter part of the 16th century. The hours are symbolized by Hebrew letters—aleph, bet, etc., as the Hebrew letters are also numbers. It is a unique timepiece because the hands rotate in an anti-clockwise rotation. This is to match the arrangement of Hebrew words, which are read right to left. Immediately located next to the Old Jewish Town Hall is Prague’s oldest synagogue, the Altneuschul—the “New Old [Synagogue].” A synagogue was established on this site as far back as the 13th century. However, the original synagogue was either demolished or changed, perhaps some one hundred years later, and a “new’” synagogue was erected on the site, thus giving it the name—“New Old [Synagogue].” In the Jewish quarter there are other historic synagogues worth visiting, each interior being designed in a different, yet outstanding style.
The other clock, located at Prague’s town hall by the city’s main square, is an astronomical clock that chimes on the hour and shows biblical figures that can be seen moving above the clock face on the hour. In addition, the clock shows astronomical details relevant to the actual time. At the time of the hourly chimes, the square in front of the clock is full of hundreds of visitors.
Today Prague shows very little of its previous domination by Russia. It has an efficient, well organized underground train network and frequent bus and tram services. For the shopping enthusiast, it has a wide range of internationally known shops and brands situated throughout the city. For those visitors more interested in the natural world, the city has one of the finest and largest zoological parks in Europe. Just on the edge of the city boundary, it is easily reached by public transport and well worth a visit.
Posted on October 11, 2019
Photo Credit: Ashernet
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