The Old-New Synagogue - History and Facts | History Hit

The Old-New Synagogue

Prague, Prague, Czech Republic

The Old-New Synagogue in Prague is the oldest working synagogue in Europe.

Peta Stamper

27 May 2021

About The Old-New Synagogue

The Old-New Synagogue in Prague is Europe’s oldest synagogue to still hold services today. Built in the later 13th century, Old-New Synagogue was initially called the “New Shul” (shul meaning synagogue), to distinguish it from others in the city. The synagogue retained this name until the 16th century, when several other synagogues were built and it was renamed as the Old-New Synagogue.

Built in the Gothic style, the Old-New Synagogue is a rectangular structure with a pitched roof. Inside, visitors can see the interior in a similar state as it looked in medieval times.

The Old-New Synagogue history

Built in approximately 1270, the Old-New Synagogue was the oldest building in the Jewish Town within Prague, and as such became the heart of the community’s district. The Bohemian king, Premsyl Otakar II had given the Jews the right to built and protect their synagogues. According to legend, angels brought the stones from the destroyed Temple of Solomon to construct the new building.

With a large saddle roof and late Gothic gables, the oblong-shaped Old-New Synagogue occupied an elevated spot dominating an area of single-storey homes from the middle ages. The building served as not only a place of worship but as a meeting place, rabbi’s office and school.

During the pogroms of 1389, around 3,000 Jews were killed – many whilst seeking refuge inside the synagogue. However, despite such violence the Jewish community endured. The Old-New Synagogue survived a devastating fire in 1689 because the surrounding buildings were not close enough to spread the flames.

While Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis during World War Two, the Old-New Synagogue was preserved as the Nazis planned to dedicate the building as a museum to the Jewish race. After the war, the synagogue was significantly restored, fully reconstructed by 1999.

The Old-New Synagogue today

Today, the Old-New Synagogue is open to visitors between 10.30am and 4pm, Sunday to Friday. Inside, you stand beneath a vaulted ceiling similar in design to many monasteries and chapels, hinting at the synagogue’s Christian architects. Note the 19th century pews, one of which with a Star of David above it. This pew was reserved for Robbi Loew, who in the 16th century created the Golem out of clay to protect Jews during pogroms.

Another highlight in the huge red banner with a golden symbol of the Jewish Town and Star of David. The centre holds a 15th century Jewish hat which Jews were required to wear when outside the ghetto – a replica based on the original.

Getting to The Old-New Synagogue

Situated within Prague’s central Old Town, the Old-New Synagogue is easily found via public transport. Buses 194 and 207 stop along Červená, or you can get the 17 and 93 trams from Právnická fakulta, a 3 minute walk down the road.

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