Jewish Garden Oldest Jewish Cemetery in Prague
Jewish Garden is the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Prague but ‘Jewish Garden’ is a misnomer. There is no garden here at all, only a paved square and a monument consisting of three tombstones. This Jewish Cemetery is 200 years older than the Old Jewish Cemetery in the Josefov district and dates to thirteenth century. It is located in the area now enclosed by Spálená, Purkyňova, Jungmannova and Lazarská streets in the Nove Mesto district.
The small square on Purkynova Street is home to a memorial consisting of gravestones placed higgledy-piggledy over each other, as they are in the Old Jewish Cemetery. A plaque next to the monument indicates the border outline of this cemetery, which covers a fairly large area.
An intriguing line on the plaque is: ‘a Cohen is not allowed to enter the cemetery area’. The reason is that members of the Cohen dynasty are Jewish Orthodox priests who are forbidden to walk on areas where there are Jewish graves.
The name Jewish Garden is not so strange after all because old maps of Prague show that Vladislavova Street used to be called Na Zidovske Zahrade (in the Jewish Garden). In the second half of the nineteenth century, at the time of the Czech National Revival, the streets in this area were renamed after famous Czechs who fought for recognition of the Czech language and culture.
The Jewish Garden covers an area of approximately 48,000 square metres. The houses in present-day streets Spálená, Jungmannová, Charvatova and Lazarská have been built on top of the cemetery.
During construction work in the early twentieth century, the first Jewish gravestones were found and are now in the Lapidarium Museum in Prague. More graves and gravestones were discovered during the construction of the metro in 1978-1980. When in 1997, there were plans to build underground parking garages on Vladislavova Street, another 400 tombstones and graves were found during the works.
The Jewish community in Prague declared the area a cultural monument and no further graves were allowed to be cleared. The remaining tombstones were encased in a concrete sarcophagus so that they could not be disturbed and rest forever.
In September 2016, the Jewish community unveiled the memorial consisting of medieval Jewish gravestones.
The monument is located on Vladislavova Street. Leave the Quadrio Shopping Centre at the back, where David Cerny’s work of art ‘Kafka’s Head’ is located, and walk into Vladislavova.
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Photos Marianne Crone