Religion in a Non-Religious City

Visitors tour the Spanish Synagogue.

Visitors tour the Spanish Synagogue and next to the large organ.

Today Prague is one of the most atheist countries in the world yet there are still many places of worship in the city. Despite the fact that 85 percent of Prague citizens claim they identify as non-religious, the Jewish community in Prague is one of Central Europe’s oldest and most well-known. The synagogues are still open to offer education to the public about its deep history.

In the 16th century the Jewish Renaissance began in Prague and by the 18th century 25 percent of Prague’s population were Jews. In fact, more Jewish people lived in Prague than anywhere else in the world. During the Renaissance in Prague four Jewish synagogues were built beginning in 1479. But Empress Maria Theresa expelled the Jews, sending them to live in ghettos. From 1522 until 1541 the population of the ghetto doubled due to influx of Jews pushed out all over Europe.  One of the most beautiful synagogues is the Spanish Synagogue built in 1868 designed by Vojtech Ignatz Ullmann. The synagogue is known for its elaborate interior style and is a Moorish Revival synagogue. The surface is Islamic-style with patterns; some painted, carved or molded. Today it is used as a museum and concert hall.

It’s interesting that there is such a rich religious history in Prague yet most citizens have no religious affiliation and don’t worship in these buildings. I am glad that most are getting their use as a museum or historical landmark like the Spanish Synagogue.

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