Old Jewish Cemetery Prague - History

The Old Jewish Cemetery is the only part of Prague's Jewish Quarter that was was left almost intact after the Sanitation process. It was established in the 15th century and worked for 300 years until Joseph II forbade burials within the city perimeter in 1787. The Cemetery has 12,000 tombstones but the number of people buried there isn't known. The uneven terrain suggests that people were buried in layers.

Prague's Old Jewish Cemetery is not the oldest one in Europe, but the biggest and the most well preserved. The two older cemeteries, in Worms from the 11th century and Frankfurt from the 14th century, were destroyed during WW2.

How to visit the Old Jewish Cemetry - opening hours and entrance fees

  • The most famous Prague cemetery stretches from Klausen and Old-New Synagogue on the north of the Prague Jewish Quarter to the Pinkas Synagogue on the south.
  • The entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery is located at the Pinkas Synagogue, the exit - at the Klausen Synagogue.
  • The cemetery is part of the Prague Jewish Museum, and you are required to purchase an entrance ticket.
  • The entrance fee to the Old Jewish Cemetery is 420 CZK or 350 CZK, depending on the circuit, and includes the visit to synagogues and Ceremonial Hall. Check out Prague Jewish Museum's official webpage to find out more!
  • Same as other monuments in the Prague Jewish Museum, the opening hours of the Old Jewish Cemetery are affected by a weekly sabbath. It also depends on the month and religious holidays, so we recommend visiting the official website linked above.

 

A Brief History of the Old Jewish Cemetery

The cemetery was most likely established in the first half of the 15th century. The oldest tombstone of the Old Jewish Cemetery comes from 1439 and belongs to a Jewish poet Avigdor Kara, who described the worst pogrom in the history of his ghetto. The cemetery was gradually expanded throughout the 16th century due to lack of space - a common problem for Jewish ghettos around Europe. The Prague Cemetery, though, is famous for its unusual look. It is strewn with thousands of old tombstones unevenly spread on the cemetery grounds. Despite the continuous effort to expand the burial territory, eventually, the cemetery ran out of space and bodies had to be buried in layers. That explains why when you are standing next to the-New Synagogue, the wall of the cemetery is much taller than it is on the Pinkas Synagogue side.

The Jewish tradition does not allow us to carry out any excavations on the territory of the cemetery, so we can only guess how many people had been buried there over 300 years period. The only certain number we have is the number of tombstones on the Old Jewish Cemetery - 12,000! Most of them are monuments made of sandstone and marble with inscriptions in Hebrew, that tell names of the deceased, their occupation, and achievements. A lot can be determined from symbols on the gravestones, but the dates are often misleading. Some historians think that tombs were probably made by Christian stonemasons, who were not familiar with the Jewish calendar and writing, so some mistakes were made in engravings.

According to the Jewish tradition (Halacha), all burial ceremonies were executed and supervised by Chevra Kadisha, whose seat used to be located at the site of nowadays Ceremonial Hall. This building is part of the Prague Jewish Museum and has exhibitions dedicated to burial ceremonies.

The Old Jewish Cemetery was closed in 1787 when a new decree of Emperor Joseph II prohibited all cemeteries within city borders. The new cemetery was opened in nowadays Zizkov area, called Olsanske Cemetery - the biggest one in Prague. This is where Franz Kafka is buried!

 

Who is buried in Prague Jewish Cemetery?

There are many notable figures buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery, among them the most famous ones are:

  • Judah Loew ben Bezalel - the legendary creator of Golem
  • Mordechai Maisel - the mayor of the Jewish Town in the 16th century after whom the Maisel Synagogue is named
  • Avigdor Kara - rabbi, kabbalist, and a poet, who lived through the worst pogrom in the ghetto

 

Facts about Prague Old Jewish Cemetery

  • The most visited tombstone on the Old Jewish Cemetery belongs to Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a famous rabbi that created Golem! You can write your wish on a piece of paper and leave it at the rabbi's tomb, so he reads and fulfills it!
  • You might recognize the famous Prague cemetery from an equally famous music video by INXS - Never Tear Us Apart
  • A novel by renowned novelist Umberto Eco Prague Cemetery explores the topic of an actual conspiracy theory stating that the Old Jewish Cemetery is a place for secret meetings of Jewish masterminds that plan to rule the world. This conspiracy theory called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was fabricated in Russia in 1903 and distributed in Germany and America. Henry Ford printed 500,000 copies of this antisemitic document for American readers in the 1920s, while in Germany pupils had to study it after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

See more of our Prague Travel Tips.


Author: Valeriia Zahradnikova and Vaclav Zahradnik, Prague guides certified by Prague City Tourism agency. Valeriia and Vaclav have worked in tourism for over 6 years and have guided thousands of Prague visitors.