I believe my love of cemeteries has been very well documented, so you can imagine that when I first saw photos of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, it quickly topped the list of places I wanted to see. After walking across the bridge, it was a short walk to the cemetery. If you know where you’re going, that is. I, however, didn’t realize we were so close, and we hopped on the nearest tram to ride up one stop. We ended up crossing the bridge and heading up a hill before we were able to get off and turn back around. But you know, I kind of like getting lost because we ended up seeing a different part of the city than we otherwise would have. We stopped into a bakery for some breakfast, and it was super cheap, but we ended up being disappointed with our choices.
We backtracked to the cemetery (turns out, the stop where we hopped on the tram was actually the stop for the cemetery) and looked around for the entrance. It wasn’t immediately noticeable, but we found two windows – one for tickets and one for the entrance. The ticket window looked unoccupied, so we went directly to the entrance. We asked for tickets and were told, “Kasse! Kasse!” So we walked back over to the ticket window, only to discover that we didn’t have quite enough cash (and of course, they didn’t take a card… the entrance was only about $2.50 anyway). So we went in search of an ATM and passed a bakery with such delicious looking food that we had to stop in. I was glad we found something else because I hate wasting an opportunity for good pastry.
On our third try, we finally gained entrance to the cemetery. First, we walked through the Pinkas Synagogue, which is a memorial to the 80,000 Jews in Bavaria who were killed during the holocaust. When I first read the number of those killed, I am a little embarrassed to say that 80,000 didn’t seem like that much when you often hear about hundreds of thousands or millions. But then we walked inside. In the memorial, the name of each person is engraved on the walls. And every inch of the synagogue is covered in names. It was incredibly moving and overwhelming to recognize what the number 80,000 actually means. It’s a sobering realization.
We walked through the synagogue into the cemetery. It was established in the 15th Century and contains about 12,000 tombstones. Although, there are considerably more people buried there.
We were curious about why the tombstones are so close together, so Cristen did some internetting and discovered that when they ran out of room for graves, they would essentially create a new layer by adding soil on top of the existing graves. According to Jewish custom, they cannot remove the tombstones, so they would just raise the tombstone up to the new layer, so that’s why they are crowded together like that. Normally when I visit cemeteries, I like to read the names and dates on the stones and think about the people. I find it fascinating to imagine their lives based off the sentiments engraved. That wasn’t really possible at the Old Jewish Cemetery because I couldn’t read any of the tombs, but it was still interesting to think about the people buried there. It’s amazing that the cemetery is over 600 years old. It kind of boggles the mind.