The Spanish Synagogue
Yesterday’s tour consisted of visiting five synagogues in Prague. To get a feeling of sense of place in the Jewish quarter, I will tell you what stood out to me from the long tour. First our tour guide explained the history of the Jewish population in Prague. During the Nazi rule, many synagogues and Jewish buildings were destroyed. However, the Nazi’s decided to keep the Jewish Quarter untouched in order to create a museum of an “extinct race”. As twisted as that may be, our tour guide was still happy that many significant parts of Jewish history in Prague were saved. After visiting such beautiful buildings and historical pieces, it was not surprising to find out that Jewish Museum is actually the most visited Jewish Museum in the world.
The first synagogue we visited was the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest lasting synagogue in Europe that is still in use today. It’s name comes from being called “New” compared to its past buildings that did not survive. The building had an interesting layout because the site is so old that it was created when women were not allowed to join in prayer at synagogue. Later on, women and men were allowed to pray in the same synagogue, but a women’s section was always created to separate men and women to avoid distraction.
One of the most touching sites we visited was the Pinkas Synagogue, a memorial to those who did not survive past the Nazi occupation. The walls contain names of over 180,000 Jews with their names, dates, and place of birth. The vast number of names surrounding you is overwhelming and devastating. There are literally names wall to wall in the building. The names were handwritten on the walls and you could even still see the pencil marks from the writing. I thought the handmade design gave it a more real and personal feeling.
Another fascinating site was the crowded Old Jewish Cemetery, with the oldest tombstone dating back to 1439. The cemetery had five layers of bodies beneath the surface in a “bunk bed-like” fashion, as our tour guide put it.
Before our tour of the Jewish Quarter, I couldn’t tell you much about Judaism. This tour meant a lot to me because I have always wanted to know more about the common religion of Judaism. The tour was a great opportunity to learn more about the religion, especially from someone who practices the religion herself.
The Old-New Synagogue
The Pinkas Synagogue
After the alchemy tour, our class separated to explore the city on our own, mainly to work on our metro stop projects. On my way back from my metro stop, I decided to take a longer route to my apartment by visiting the Charles Bridge. The first time I visited the Charles Bridge, I quickly became overwhelmed by the beautiful views and towering statues. The Charles Bridge is an icon of Prague, which links the two sections of the city in the most interesting way.
The Charles Bridge closed during the recent flooding due to the slowly rising river. Since the bridge has reopened, the whole area is completely covered with tourists. As I have quickly realized, this city is heavily filled with visitors and tourists from all over the world. I had no idea how many people could fit on a single bridge. At one point of my walk, the tourist traffic was stand still with people shoulder to shoulder. I wanted to leave the bridge as quickly as possible until something new caught my eye. Instead of being distracted by the frantic tourists, I took the time to pay attention to the souvenir and caricature stands that are lined up along the sides of the Charles Bridge. Along the bridge you can find almost anything; paintings, jewelry, crafts, fruit, maps, glass, and more. However, the most interesting thing about the stands is the people that work there. Many of them are extremely talented in their artistic skills and it’s mesmerizing to watch the artists work.
Sometimes the best way to get to know an area is to get lost. After a late night dinner at the Café Louvre, two classmates and I decided not to look at a map to figure out our way home. We wandered the areas around Prague while snapping photos of our unfamiliar surroundings. While walking down narrow graffiti filled streets, I noticed that we were walking with the locals instead of with the tourists. The locals were quiet, dark, and usually walking hand in hand with their partners. I have easily noticed that the couples from Prague are not afraid to be intimate in public despite their reserved personalities. We also made sure to pay attention to what restaurants and pubs the locals were walking out of since they probably know the best places in town. Even though we were walking along with the people of Prague, we still definitely stood out as being tourists because of our obnoxious picture taking.
While the three of us were trying to orient ourselves around the city, I noticed that breaking off from the study abroad group made taking photos easier. Being on your own or in a small group makes a huge difference while taking photographs. We became a lot more bold and creative while taking photos. In fact, a few locals were laughing at us when we were taking photos. At one point, a man starting bursting out laughing when Victoria was trying to take a reflection picture in one of the puddles. Also, when pointing our cameras at the metro, some people starting waving their arms frantically in the air trying to get our attention. However, they wanted our attention in order to show that they were mimicking us. Overall, getting “lost” gave us a humorous experience of gaining a sense of place with not only our surroundings, but with the people of Prague.