Old Jewish Cemetery is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe and one of the most important Jewish historical monuments in Prague. It served its purpose from the first half of 15th century till 1786. Renowned personalities of the local Jewish community were buried here; among them rabbi Jehuda Liva ben Becalel – Maharal (ca. 1526–1609), businessman Mordecai Maisel (1528–1601), historian David Gans (ca. 1541–1613) and rabbi David Oppenheim (1664–1736).
The Old Jewish Cemetery is not the first Jewish cemetery in Prague – its predecessor was so-called 'Jewish Garden“ located in the area of present New Town of Prague. This cemetery was closed by order of King Wladislav II Jagello in 1478 because of complaints of Prague citizens. Later it disappeared under the streets of New Town. We know that the history of the Old Cemetery started before that, but the exact date when it was founded is unknown. The only clue is the oldest gravestone in the cemetery from 1439 which belongs to rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara.
Starting at the middle of the 15th century, the gravestones record is a continual time line of burials. The final gravestone is dated 1787; three years earlier, the enlightened sovereign Emperor Josef II had banned burials inside the city walls for hygienic reasons. Later Prague Jews used a cemetery in Žižkov, founded in the 17th century because of plague epidemic.
During the more than three centuries in which it was in active use, the cemetery continually struggled with the lack of space. Piety and respect for the deceased ancestors does not allow the Jews to abolish old graves. Only occasionally the Jewish Community was allowed to purchase grounds to expand the cemetery and so many times it had to gain space in other ways; if necessary, a new layer of soil was heaped up on the available area. For this reason, there are places where as many as twelve layers now exist. Thanks to this solution the older graves themselves remained intact. However, as new levels were added it was necessary either to lay over the gravestones associated with the older (and lower) graves to protect them, or else to elevate the stones to the new, higher surface. This explains the dense forest of gravestones that one sees today; many of them commemorate an individual who is buried several layers further down. This also explains why the surface of the cemetery is raised several meters higher than the surrounding streets; retaining walls are necessary to hold the soil and the graves in place.
There are two kinds of Jewish burial monuments – the older is a slab of wood or stone, basically rectangular, but with various endings at the top. Tumba (in Hebrew ohel – tent) appears later, in baroque times. It is generally more representative than the first mentioned kind and resembles a little house. Such tumbas commemorate on the cemetery for example Maharal or Mordecai Maisel. Tumbas do not contain the remains; they are buried underneath in ground.
The oldest gravestones on Old Jewish cemetery are plain, yet very soon the number of ornaments (pilasters, volutes, false portals, etc.) began to increase. Most decorated gravestones come from 17th century. However, on every gravestone there are Hebrew letters that inform about the name of the deceased person and the date of his or her death or burial. From 16th century the gravestones characterize the deceased also through various symbols, hinting at the life, character, name or profession of the people.References:
The Cloth Hall in Kraków dates to the Renaissance and is one of the city's most recognizable icons. It is the central feature of the main market square in the Kraków Old Town (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978).
The hall was once a major centre of international trade. Traveling merchants met there to discuss business and to barter. During its golden age in the 15th century, the hall was the source of a variety of exotic imports from the east – spices, silk, leather and wax – while Kraków itself exported textiles, lead, and salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Kraków was Poland's capital city and was among the largest cities in Europe already from before the time of the Renaissance. However, its decline started with the move of the capital to Warsaw in the very end of the 16th century. The city's decline was hastened by wars and politics leading to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century. By the time of the architectural restoration proposed for the cloth hall in 1870 under Austrian rule, much of the historic city center was decrepit. A change in political and economic fortunes for the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria ushered in a revival due to newly established Legislative Assembly or Sejm of the Land. The successful renovation of the Cloth Hall, based on design by Tomasz Pryliński and supervised by Mayor Mikołaj Zyblikiewicz, Sejm Marshal, was one of the most notable achievements of this period.
The hall has hosted many distinguished guests over the centuries and is still used to entertain monarchs and dignitaries, such as Charles, Prince of Wales and Emperor Akihito of Japan, who was welcomed here in 2002. In the past, balls were held here, most notably after Prince Józef Poniatowski had briefly liberated the city from the Austrians in 1809. Aside from its history and cultural value, the hall still is still used as a center of commerce.
On the upper floor of the hall is the Sukiennice Museum division of the National Museum, Kraków. It holds the largest permanent exhibit of the 19th-century Polish painting and sculpture, in four grand exhibition halls arranged by historical period and the theme extending into an entire artistic epoch. The museum was upgraded in 2010 with new technical equipment, storerooms, service spaces as well as improved thematic layout for the display.
The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art was a major cultural venue from the moment it opened on October 7, 1879. It features late Baroque, Rococo, and Classicist 18th-century portraits and battle scenes by Polish and foreign pre-Romantics.