Located in Prague (Czech Republic), in the Jewish quarter, the Old-New Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogue still existing in Europe today. Build in the 13th century, this synagogue is still in use today and has been the main synagogue of the Prague Jewish community for more than 700 years, whereas many others have been turned into museums. Originally called the New or Great Shul, it was not until the establishment of other synagogues in the late 16th century that it came to be known as the Old-New (Altneuschul).
The Old-New Synagogue is a Must-seen place for architecture lovers, as the building is a magnificent example of the gothic style. The synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue with a medieval double-nave. It is a rectangular structure with a large saddle roof and Gothic gables, the thick outer walls of which are supported by buttresses. The main building is surrounded on three sides by low annexes which serve as a vestibule and women’s sections. The latter are connected to the main hall only by narrow apertures in the walls, which enable women to hear the services. In accordance with tradition and as a sign of humility, the floor level of the hall and main nave is several degrees below the surrounding terrain. However, there is another explanation regarding the low level of the Old-New Synagogue entry: indeed, the level of the entry of the synagogue was the normal level of the ground back in days. Then, in order to escape floods and water damages, previous generations started to build houses and entries higher than the river, which explains that the entry of the Old-New Synagogue is lower than what we are used to see. The interior of the Old-New Synagogue is arched by six bays of five-ribbed vaulting on two large octagonal pillars. The twelve narrow pointed windows correspond in number to the tribes of Israel. The stone brackets and shaft capitals feature sculptural ornamentation of plant motifs, dominated by vine-leaf motifs. Of greatest artistic value is the decoration of the tympanum above the Torah ark and the vault keystones.
Many legends are revolving around the Old-New synagogue. Regarding its foundation stones, it is said that there were brought by angels from the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem “on condition” of their return upon restoration of the Temple. According to another legend, the synagogue was protected against fire in the ghetto by the wings of angels transformed into doves, which is why it has remained miraculously intact to this day. The very famous legend of Rabbi Judah Loew Ben Bezalel and the Golem is another legend about the synagogue, according to which, it is in this particular synagogue that the clay monster is supposed to be hidden. One version of the legend tells that one day, as Rabbi Loew was singing the psalms in the Old New synagogue, the Golem became mad and started to destroy everything outside the synagogue. Rabbi Loew had to stop in the middle of the psalm 92 to prevent the Golem from harming people. After that, he came back inside the synagogue and started again the singing with a repetition of the psalm 92. Since then, the psalm 92 is always sung twice in this synagogue.
The Old-New Synagogue is a place of history and legend, still used today for religious ceremonies, Jewish weddings and regular divine services. Its location? Maiselova 18, Praha 1, Staré Město. Do not miss it!