The New Jewish Cemetery in Prague: Not Just Kafka’s Grave
Beyond the Old Jewish Town
When talking about the Jewish presence in Prague and Jewish cemetery, most tour guides and websites direct you to the Old Jewish Cemetery.
Quite rightly so – it is one of the oldest surviving Jewish necropolises in the world! It was established in the 15th century and together with the AlteNeue Shul (The Old New Synagogue), they make the core of Prague Jewish Town.
It is famous for being the resting place of Rav (Rabbi) Yehudah Loew Ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal, who was a very important philosopher and a commentator.
The New Jewish Cemetery: Kafka and art
But it is not the only Jewish cemetery and definitely not the only worth seeing in Prague.
The New Jewish Cemetery (Nový židovský hřbitov), which was open when the old one became overcrowded in 1890, is a gem on its own terms.
It is famous for being the resting place of Franz Kafka and his family, but it also shows the highest levels of artistry.
I highly recommend visiting it – even if you are not a fan of literature (or Kafka in particular). And it is definitely a must for any art and architecture lovers.
The History and Style of the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague
The necropolis was very well planned from the very beginning and its clear layout is visible right away.
Walking past gravestones we walk through consequent styles of tombs and monuments. It might seem strange, but the ruling art styles influenced the gravestone craftsmanship as much as it did architecture or painters.
When I was walking through the cemetery on a beautiful summer day I felt like I was in an art gallery.
I was struck by the beauty of lettering and details of decorations.
The city of Alfons (Alphonse) Mucha could not live without gravestones decorated in the Prague and Vienna Art Nouveau style.
In addition, you can recognize monuments in new-Gothicism, new-Renaissance, Constructivism or Purism – all the way to the modern-day.
When you enter the cemetery you are welcomed by a beautiful and striking ceremonial hall built according to the, then ruling, neo-Renaissance style. It was designed by architect Bedřich Münzberger.
Franz Kafka's Grave at the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague
If you wish to visit Franz Kafka’s grave, walk the main avenue east and turn right when you reach row 21.
When you hit the cemetery’s wall turn left and walk to the end of this section. Kafka’s family grave is at the corner of this square (21 - 14 – 21).
It’s a simple thumb stone in the shape of a hexagonal crystal, which was designed by L. Ehrmann.
As a Kafka’s fan you might be also interested in the commemorative plaque on the opposite site for Max Brod – Kafka’s friend and supporter, whose grave is in Israel.
It was him who published Kafka’s work after his death – and disregarded the author’s wishes for all his books to be burned.
The beauty of the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague
I found it truly stunning, how much attention to details and visual beauty you can find in a place like this. The lettering in particular caught my attention - I love typography and could admire how wonderfully artists used a variety of available typefaces to decorate the grave stones. But enough of me talking about it - check out the photos below to see for yourself.
Visiting the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague
Visiting Jewish cemeteries:
According to the Jewish tradition, men who enter a cemetery should have their heads covered.
You may use your own head covering or use yarmulkes (kippot) provided there. There is also a tradition that one should wash his or her hands upon leaving a cemetery – there is a basin on the side of the left-hand building, right next to the gate.
It is also required to have appropriate attire for visiting a religious site.
If you want to pay respect to anyone who is buried there, you might want to bring flowers.
It is worth knowing though, that by the Jewish tradition it is not the best idea.
You will notice that many people place stones on graves – it is seen as a sign of never-ending memory which we hope to be eternal as stones.
November to March: Sunday to Thursday 9:00 am to 4 pm (last admittance is 30 min. before closing time), Fridays 09:00 am to 2 pm, on Saturdays (Sabbath) and Jewish holidays closed.
April to October: Sunday to Thursday 9:00 am to 5 pm, Fridays 09:00 am to 2 pm, on Saturdays and Jewish holidays closed.
The cemetery’s address: Izraelská 1, Praha 3 – Žižkov; it’s beside the Želivského metro station on the A-line. It is not in a walkable distance from the historical center. It’s might be also important to know that it is wheelchair accessible.