The Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga), built around 1270, is the oldest functioning synagogue in Europe. It is also one of only three synagogues in Prague’s Jewish Quarter ‘Josefov’ still used for services.
The rather small building in early Gothic style consists of one central hall bordered by a number of smaller rooms. The vaulted hall is supported by two octagonal pillars. Only men are allowed to attend services in the central hall, women can access the rooms near the hall. Small windows in the wall, added in the eighteenth century, allow the women to view the services.
It is almost a miracle the synagogue has survived until today. During its more than seven hundred years of existence, the building has survived several pogroms, fires and a nineteenth century redevelopment of the Jewish quarter.
Legend has it that the synagogue is protected by Angels who brought the stones to build the synagogue from the ruins of King Solomon’s Temple. In time the synagogue will be dismantled and the stones will be used to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
The same legend gives an explanation for the building’s strange name: it would be an incorrect translation from its Hebrew name ‘At-Tnay Synagogue’. Misinterpreted as alt-neu (old-new in English), it literally means ‘on condition’, meaning that the synagogue only exists conditionally – until the Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of Solomon.
A much easier explanation for the name could be that the original name ‘New Synagogue’ was changed in the sixteenth century into ‘Old-New Synagogue’ after newer synagogues were built.
The Old-New Synagogue is located in the center of Josefov, the Jewish quarter just north of Old Town.