Prague 1 - Josefov
While the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is part of Old Town, its past sets it apart from the rest of the neighborhood. In the 13th century, Prague's extensive Jewish population was packed into a walled ghetto by decree of the pope. In the late 16h century, the wealthy Mordecai Maisel funded important building projects, including the aptly named Maisel Synagogue.
It was not until the mid-1800s, however, that the walls were ripped down as Jewish people finally received equal rights. At this point, the wealthier residents of Josefov began to leave the area, facing social intolerance, while many remained in the Jewish Quarter's cheaper housing. Over time, Josefov became a slum in which poor people of all backgrounds lived.
In the late 19th century there was a movement towards making Prague looks more like Paris. Having this ghetto so close to the city center was deemed unacceptable so much of it was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style, including what is still the most expensive shopping boulevard in Prague, Pařížská street. Today, fine restaurants like Barock alternate with designer boutiques along its edges.
Despite the area's overhaul, some important monuments to its tumultuous history remained intact. These include the jam-packed Old Jewish Cemetery, the very old Old-New Synagogue, and the spectacular Spanish Synagogue, outside of which stands a surreal statue of Franz Kafka. Today, the neighborhood is largely under the auspices of the Jewish Historical Museum.
This former ghetto is now crawling with visitors looking to understand a bit of history while experiencing the sheer beauty of its reconstruction.