The Prague quarter of Josefov offers six preserved synagogues from the former Jewish Ghetto. One of them is the Maisel Synagogue which was built in accordance with the agreement issued by the emperor Rudolph II for the wealthy mayor of the Jewish Town in 1592.
This synagogue acquired its name in honor of its builder Mordechai Maisel who was the Mayor of the Jewish Town and who initiated and financed the extensive Renaissance reconstruction of the ghetto. Incidentally, the Maisel family actually wanted to build the synagogue as their own private house of worship in the late 16th Century. There are several legends which tell how Mordechai Maisel gained his money. One legend tells us of forest sprites bringing large quantities of money to him. Another, that Mordechai had a small shop in Jewish Quarter and one day a strange man arrived and left a large suitcase there. He said he would return for his luggage, but he was never seen again. When Mordechai opened the suitcase several years later, he found a huge sum of cash inside.
It was constructed as a new building in the Renaissance style, but was still closely linked to the previous traditional Gothic style. The original project was designed by the architect Juda Coref de Herz and the construction works were supervised by the builder Josef Wahl. Unfortunately, the building completely was completely destryed by fire 1689. After reconstruction, the synagogue was further modified by the architect J.M.Wertmuller between 1862-1864. In the course of the extensive area clearance of Josefov, the building was modified into the neo-Gothic style between 1893 and 1905. The present appearance of the synagogue represents the work of Prof. Alfred Grott. The Maisel synagogue remained in the original Renaissance style and the ground plan was designed as a tripartite central hall with the upper storey women´s section. Interestingly, it was also the first Prague synagogue accessible to women.
Second World War
During the Second World War the synagogue was used as a repository of the Jewish artifacts, which Hitler planned to use as exhibits in a “Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race”, which he intended to establish.
Maisel Synagogue Today
Nowadays the Maisel synagogue houses one of the exhibitions of the Prague Jewish Museum as well as a repository of artifacts. Its permanent exhibition is devoted to the history of the Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia from their first historical settlements to the beginning of their emancipation.