Old New Synagogue (Staronová Synagoga)
The Jewish ghetto in Prague grew up in Josefov around the Old New Synagogue (Staronová Synagoga), which was in use as early as 1270. It has the distinction of being oldest functioning synagogue in Europe – for over 700 years services were only halted during Nazi occupation between 1942–45 – and today it is once more the heart of Jewish worship in the city. A Gothic oddity, the whitewashed synagogue is topped with brick gables and its interior is starkly simple and little changed since the 13th century, with one prayer hall for the men and an adjoining gallery for women, who originally were only allowed to witness services from behind a glass screen. An elaborate wrought-iron grill encases the pulpit and the Torah scrolls are contained in a plain Ark on one wall. Apart from a couple of chandeliers, the only embellishment is a tattered red flag bearing the Star of David hanging from the ceiling, given as a gesture of respect to the Jewish community by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1357; the red banner close by was a gift from Ferdinand III in thanks for Jewish help in repulsing a Swedish invasion in 1648. Down the centuries the building has survived fires, pogroms and sieges, giving rise to the legend that is protected by angels.
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