Built around 1270, this is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe and one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Prague. The synagogue has survived fires, slum clearances within the nineteenth century, and several other Jewish pogroms. Residents of the city’s Jewish Quarter (Josefov) have usually needed to seek refuge inside its walls and in the present day it’s the religious center for Prague’s Jewish community. It was referred to as the New Synagogue till one other synagogue was constructed nearby – this was later destroyed.
This Gothic corridor, with its distinctive crenellated gable, has been a home of prayer for over seven-hundred years. Its twin-nave has a ribbed, vaulted ceiling. To keep away from the signal of the cross, a fifth rib was added (5-rib vaulting) and adorned with vine leaves, symbolizing the fertility of the land, and ivy. In a two-story construction the ladies’s gallery would be upstairs, however here it’s positioned within the vestibule. The number 12 is a recurring feature all through the synagogue, most likely in reference to the 12 tribes of Israel.
The Old-New Synagogue stands in Josefov, once Prague’s Jewish Ghetto. The area is called after Emperor Josef II, who partially relaxed the discrimination towards Jews throughout his reign within the 18th century. For hundreds of years, Prague’s Jews had suffered from oppressive laws-within the sixteenth century, they needed to put on a yellow circle as a mark of disgrace. Within the 1890s, the ghetto slums had been razed, but a handful of buildings survived, together with the Jewish Town Hall and quite a few synagogues. Throughout World War II, the Nazis occupied Prague and nearly two-thirds of the town’s Jewish inhabitants perished in the Holocaust, mainly in Terezin concentration camp, located northwest of Prague.
The Old-New Synagogue is certainly one of three synagogues in Prague where services are held in the present day. Admonishing worshipers on their way into the synagogue are the next words inscribed on the doorway portal “Revere God and observe his commandments! For this applies to all mankind.”