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MAISEL SYNAGOGUE, PRAGUE

Maisel Synagogue (Czech: Maiselova synagoga) is one of the historical monuments of the former Prague Jewish Ghetto. It was built at the end of the 16th century which is considered to be the golden age of the ghetto. Since then its appearance has changed several times, its actual style is neo-gothic. Nowadays the synagogue belongs to the Jewish Community of Prague and is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague as a part of its expositions.

The construction of the synagogue was initiated by Mordechai Maisel. First, in 1590, this renowned businessman and benefactor of the ghetto gained the building site. One year later he obtained from the emperor Rudolf II, the current sovereign of the country, a privilege to build his own synagogue. Mordecai Maisel had an important position at Rudolf's court and that probably helped him to gain this favour. The architectural plan for Maisel synagogue, designed by Judah Coref de Herz, was realized by Josef Wahl and in 1592, on Simchat Torah, the synagogue was consecrated. For the next century it became the largest and most impressive building in the ghetto, also thanks to its abundant equipment. Maisel bequeathed the synagogue to the Prague Jewish community, yet after his death in 1601 all his possession, including the synagogue, was confiscated (in spite of another imperial privilege, allowing Maisel to write a testament). Maisel's last will was therefore fulfilled entirely only after a number of trials, several decades later.

In 1689 the synagogue was severely damaged by fire that affected the whole ghetto. It was reconstructed in a hurry and lost one third of its length. Then it was changed in the 19th century (in 1862–1864 according to architectural plan of J. W. Wertmüller) and again at the turn of the 20th century when all the Jewish Quarter went through a big urban renewal. Architect Alfred Grotte reconstructed the synagogue in Neo-Gothic style, and in fact it has not changed till now.

During the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, properties of the Czech Jewish communities were stored in Maisel Synagogue. After the World War II the synagogue became a depository of Jewish Museum in Prague. During the sixties it was restored and between 1965 and 1988 an exposition of silver Judaica was located there. Then the synagogue was closed because of deplorable technical conditions, which could not be improved because of lack of financial means. Velvet revolution made necessary reconstruction possible and the synagogue was then opened for visitors in 1996, showing an exposition of Jewish history in the Czech lands from the beginning (9th century) till the age of Enlightenment which meant a turning point in Jewish social status.
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