Plzeň - The Story of the Great Synagogue

Visit one of the world’s largest synagogues and learn about its history. You will discover why regular services were conducted there for less than 50 years and why – despite plans to demolish it – it was not destroyed by the Nazis during the war. Though its history is relatively short compared to other synagogues, the Great Synagogue in Plzeň is one of the most important Jewish historical landmarks in the Czech Republic.
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There were Jews in Plzeň in West Bohemia from the 14th century. However, they were expelled from the city in 1504 and in the following decades were barred from even spending the night there. It was centuries before they could return to Plzeň, when under reforms introduced by Emperor Joseph II at the end of the 18th century the city’s gates were once again opened to them.


© Ladislav Renner

They were again expelled in 1821, though the situation soon calmed and Plzeň’s Jewish community again started to grow. In time it gradually became so wealthy that it could afford to build what was for that period a genuinely monumental structure. The original plan included towers 65 metres in height; however, the city council quashed that idea and the towers are “merely” 45 metres high. In 1893 the Great Synagogue, then the third largest in the world, was opened. However, services were only held there until 1941. At that time the Nazis had just one plan in mind for it: demolition.

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Your Plzeň pilgrimage will begin at the New Jewish Cemetery on the city’s eastern side. You can take a stroll among around 2,000 tombs beneath the shade of the broad crowns of trees, view two monuments to the victims of war, and remember your ancestors in peace. Once you have finished there, take the main street Rokycanská in a westerly direction and until you reach the city centre. The Old Synagogue is hidden in a courtyard between the streets Smetanovy sady and Americká třída. As well as admiring its sensitively executed renovation you can take in an exhibition on the history of Plzeň’s Jews and their culture and tradition. Visiting a monument to deported Jews at the spot in its garden where the Ancillary Synagogue once stood is a powerful experience.  It is also possible to reach the city centre by taking a bus and then transferring to a tram. You then take Americká St. in your original direction until you get to Klatovská třída. This locality features flats with interiors by the world-renowned architect Adolf Loos. Some of them (e.g., a salon with a dining room at Klatovská 12 and a flat at Bendova 10) are accessible if you make a prior reservation at wwww.visitplzen.eu. This whole detour can be done by tram, though Bendova is only one tram stop away. Once you have taken in the recently renovated flats, return to the main street until you reach your next port of call, the Great Synagogue. One of the largest synagogues in the world, the building’s monumental nature and beauty will bowl you over, though the space also delivers top-notch arts events. You will conclude your visit to Plzeň at the Old Jewish Cemetery. There you can take a break in peace in a park that stands on the original site of the Old Jewish Cemetery and peruse several remaining tombstones and a granite memorial.

Common Tips

When you are at the Old Synagogue, don’t miss the interesting exhibition dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. It is located at the site of the former Ancillary Synagogue which was built to expand the capacity of the Old Synagogue. Only the outer walls have been preserved and between them you will find 2,600 stones on which, as part of the 60th anniversary of the deportation of Jews to Terezín, Plzeň residents have written the names of victims. Seeing them is an extraordinarily powerful experience.

Transportation

Plzeň is cca 100 km from Prague on the D5 motorway. You can reach it by car in approximately one hour. The journey by train or bus takes just under an hour and a half.
 
The itinerary is intended for walkers but can be combined with the use of public transport or car transfer.

Day 1

km
2
hrs
5
sights
6

The New Jewish Cemetery in Plzeň

The New Cemetery, the third established in Plzeň, lies on the very outskirts of the city. Alongside a great number of historic tombstones it features a symbolic memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Above all, however, it is an ideal spot for contemplation, reflection and rest.

Address

Rokycanská, Plzeň
GPS: 49.7462789, 13.4318397

Opening Hours

The Old Synagogue in Plzeň

The history of the Old Synagogue in Plzeň began in 1857–1859. It was used for its intended purpose until the Nazi occupation, after which it was virtually forgotten for many decades. Fortunately people of good will came forward to save the historic building; it is down to them that it still possible to visit it and admire its beauty today.

Address

Smetanovy sady 5
301 00 Plzeň
GPS: 49.7443125, 13.3743411

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 55 Kč

Children fee: 40 Kč

Family fee: 80 Kč

Senior fee: 50 Kč

Student fee: 50 Kč

The Adolf Loos Interiors in Plzeň – Apartment at Bendová 10

The apartment interior that Adolf Loos created for the family of engineer Vilém Kraus is one of the most beautiful in Plzeň. However, it is not just the allure of the interior but also the deeply tragic human story of the original owners that makes the place noteworthy. 
 

Address

Bendová 10, Plzeň
GPS: 49.7411889, 13.3702600

The Adolf Loos Interiors in Plzeň – Apartment at Klatovská 12

Adolf Loos first designed the interior of the apartment at no.12 Klatovská St. in 1908 for the family of industrialist Otto Beck, whose daughter later became the architect’s wife. The second time he did so was for Josef Vogel, an important Jewish doctor in Plzeň. It is the renovation of Dr. Vogel’s apartment that one can see today.
 

Address

Klatovská, Plzeň
GPS: 49.7437708, 13.3719431

Great Synagogue in Plzeň

Thanks to its geographical position, the capital of West Bohemia has always been something of a cultural crossroads. A number of exotic buildings have survived in the city, lending Plzeň the feel of a cosmopolitan centre in this part of the Czech Republic. One of these buildings is the Great Synagogue, an integral part of Plzeň’s cityscape.

Address

Smetanovy sady 5, 301 37 Plzeň
GPS: 49.7466194, 13.3729889

Opening Hours

Entry fees

Standard fee: 70 Kč

Children fee: 40 Kč

Family fee: 110 Kč

Senior fee: 50 Kč

Student fee: 50 Kč

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Plzeň

Though you will not find hundreds of preserved tombstones at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Plzeň it is still worth visiting as a reminder of just how some Jewish landmarks were treated in the past.

Address

Lidická, Plzeň
GPS: 49.7623661, 13.3718261

Na Spilce

Pilsner beer is one of best known Czech products. If you would like not only to taste this magnificent beer but also soak up the atmosphere of the legendary Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) brewery, visit the restaurant Na Spilce, which is located in its courtyard.

Address

U Prazdroje 7
304 97 Plzeň
GPS: 49.746974, 13.386197

Rous Hotel

Located in the historical heart of Plzeň, the Rous Hotel is just a few steps away from various architectural sites and museums. The hotel itself offers comfortable accommodation and pleasant relaxation in the jazz café or on the unique terrace on the medieval city walls, commanding amazing views of the nearby park.

Address

Hotel Rous ****
Zbrojnická 7
301 15 Plzeň
GPS: 49.746807, 13.379223

Parkhotel Congress Centre Plzeň

The Parkhotel Congress Centre Plzeň is located in the middle of the tranquil and relaxing surroundings of Borský Park in the southern part of the city of Pilsen. The hotel combines luxury, relaxation and a unique setting that offers guests long and relaxing walks beneath the leafy canopies of mature trees.

Address

Congress Center Parkhotel Pilsen ****
U Borského parku 31
320 04 Plzeň
GPS: 49.720576, 13.370952