JEWISH TOWN

The historical sources reveal that the Jews appeared in Prague in the 10th century. Originally they settled at the Lesser Town, but since the 12th century the Jewish Ghetto had been built on the other bank of the Vltava in the northwest part of the Old Town. The social circumstances, differed faith and habits secluded the Jewish citizens from the Christians. The ghetto was an independent town with its own administration, schools and synagogues and it was surrounded by walls. Jews were not considered as full citizens and they were constrained by many regulations and exposed to the constant danger. Until the first crusades, the Jews lived in relative safety, and their commerce skills and financial activities provided opportunities anywhere they went. The first Pogroms that took place throughout Europe occurred at the end of the 11th century. As a part of the First Crusade, they started to endanger the future for European Jews. Jews were often expelled out of towns and frequent pogroms were destroying their town but despite all of this, the Prague ghetto survived and it has been a unique cultural centre over the centuries. Therefore, the enlightened ruler, Josef II., cancelled the discrimination laws and the complete emancipation with the rest of the population occurred in 1848. To honour the ruler the Jewish Town was renamed, “Josefov” in 1850. In the 18th century, one quarter of the citizens in Prague was Jewish. Soon after the regulations by Josef II., rich Jews had slowly began to leave the ghetto, Josefov, because it had become a slum with difficult living conditions. These difficult living conditions included, unsatisfactory hygienic conditions, spread of disease, increase in crime, overpopulation, lack of a solution of property relations to the houses, and all of these called for an urgent solution. The absence of the culture preserving law and the attempts to acquire more land to build houses and modern boulevards in the Parisian style all led to the sanitation plan that was approved by the municipal in 1893. The plan essentially allowed expropriation and demolition of the medieval Jewish ghetto. The strong opposition, which was trying to preserve this unique cultural landmark, rose against the plan. In the end, the easier and inexpensive option won. Luckily, the original sanitation plan was based on the winning project with the name “Finis Ghetto” but it was never entirely realized. Nevertheless, by 1913 a significant amount of houses had been demolished, as well as entire streets and even some synagogues had disappeared. A number of citizens went down by two thirds. The wide streets and palaces were built in the historicising styles. It was the largest and the most radical interruption into the urban plan of Prague. It is fair to mention that other European cities, for example, in Vienna, were also facing the same problems.
The Jewish Museum for the Jewish heritage was established in 1906. It is the largest museum of its kind in the world. In addition some of the original ghetto landmarks like: synagogues, graveyard and unique culture landmarks sought by tourist were preserved.

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