Prague is considered one of Europe's great Jewish cities. Jews have been living here since the 10th century, and by 1708 there were more Jews in Prague than anywhere else in Europe.
In the Middle Ages there two distinct Jewish communities in Prague: Jews from the West have settled around the Old-New Synagogue, and Jews from the Byzantine Empire were living around the Old Shul (today's Spanish Synagogue). The two settlements gradually merged and were confined in an enclosed ghetto. For centuries, Prague's Jews suffered from oppressive laws - in the 16th century they had to wear a yellow band as a mark of shame. Christians often accused them of starting fires, poisoning wells - any pretext for a pogrom would do. Discrimination was partially eased in 1784 by the Austrian emperor Joseph II, and the Jewish Quarter was named Josefov after him. In the mid 19th century the area was officially incorporated into Prague.
The Jewish Quarter of Prague contains many preserved historical sites despite a rocky history. In 1689 many of the buildings were destroyed in a fire, and reconstructions never matched the originals. Today most synagogues in the area are a part of the Jewish Museum and contain exhibits. The Maisel Synagogue is considered to be the golden age of the ghetto, but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times with its final reconstruction in the neo-gothic style. Today it is used as an event space for cultural events. The High Synagogue contains a collection of old Hebrew books and was built in the Renaissance style as a meeting place for the community officials in addition to the community meeting place at Jewish Town Hall. The Jewish Town Hall is best known for its two clocks with Roman and Hebrew numerals. The only baroque synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue contains an exhibit on the Torah and Jewish traditions.
The Pinkas Synagogue contains a powerful memorial of Holocaust victims, the first floor contains drawings from children in concentration camps as well as the names of victims lining the inner walls. Pinkas Synagogue still plays an active role in the Jewish community today. The only synagogue built in the Moorish Revival Style, the Spanish Synagogue, stands on the site of the oldest synagogue that was destroyed. It served as a hospital until WWII and now acts as a museum of Jewish History in Czech lands. The Old New Synagogue is Europe's oldest active synagogue. Legend says that the body of Golem lies in the attic of the Synagogue.
Perhaps the most powerful location in Josefev is the Old Jewish Cemetery, the largest of its kind in Europe. Because of limited space and use over three centuries (the earliest known grave being in 1439 and the most recent in 1787), levels were added on top of one another. In some places as many as twelve layers of graves are contained in one plot. This also explains the mass of gravestones, as some commemorate an individual on a lower layer.