Built in the 15th century in the Jewish quarter, it was used until the 18th century

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague and the reason for its strange and fascinating appearance

One of the oldest and most famous Jewish cemeteries in the world is in Central Europe, specifically in the capital of the Czech Republic.

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The exact date of the founding of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is unknown, but it is estimated that its construction dates back to the first half of the 15th century, since its oldest tombstone, that of poet Avigdor Kara, is from 1432, while the most recent tombstone is from 1787. Since then, new burials were made in the Zizkov Jewish Cemetery, founded in 1680 following a plague epidemic.

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. In the background on the right we see the Jewish Museum of Prague and on the left is the Ceremonial Hall, a former morgue built by the Prague Funeral Society between 1906 and 1908. Today it is part of the Jewish Museum (Photo: Emmanuel Dyan).

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is known for having an atypical, strange and fascinating appearance, as it has about 12,000 tombstones that are placed very close to each other. This placement makes anyone wonder if there are actually people buried under them, since the custom in other cemeteries is for there to be a single headstone in the plot occupied by a grave.

A typical image of this cemetery, with its tombstones placed very close to each other (Photo: Edd Prince).

This is not the case with this Prague cemetery. Although the cemetery had some expansions as the size of the Jewish population of that city increased, space was always very limited. Added to this was the Jewish religious custom that prevents removing previous burials. In many Christian cemeteries there is a general ossuary to which bones from a tomb or niche are transferred when their concession expires.

This cemetery has witnessed the long history of Prague's Jewish community, including the dark years of the Holocaust: of the 125,000 Jews in Bohemia and Moravia in 1939, only about 7,000 were still alive in 1945, at the end of the Second War. World Cup (Photo: Maxence Pira).

Due to this space problem, the solution that the Jewish community of Prague found was to make burials in layers, that is, in the plot of a grave another person was buried on top, adding more earth. In the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague there are plots with up to ten layers and as many tombs, which is why the ground of this cemetery is located higher than the surrounding streets, which forced the construction of a retaining wall.

The wall that surrounds the cemetery. It was necessary to build it to contain the successive layers of burials (Photo: Postdlf).

The cemetery is located in a block of the city of Prague, very close to the Vltava River. It has a perimeter of more than 500 meters and its interior is full of trees. To the south of the cemetery is the Pinkas Synagogue, built in 1535. On its walls are written the names of 80,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust. On the other side of the block, to the north, is the Klausen Synagogue, in the baroque style and built in the second half of the 16th century. At the eastern end of the cemetery is the Jewish Museum.

The cemetery is located on a tree-lined area, in the middle of the Jewish quarter of Prague (Photo: Stuart Richards).

If you want to know more about this cemetery, I encourage you to visit his page on the website of the Jewish Museum in Prague. You can see more images of the cemetery in this video published by that museum:


Main photo: pxhere.com.

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