The Old Jewish Cemetery, where all of Prague's Jewish residents were buried until the late 1600s, is one of the eeriest remnants of the city's once-thriving Jewish community. The 12,000 tombstones that are crammed into this tiny, tree-shaded patch of ground are a forceful reminder of the lack of space accorded to the ghetto, which remained walled until the late 1700s. Forbidden to enlarge the burial ground, the Jews were forced to bury their dead on top of one another. An estimated 100,000 bodies were interred here, piled up to 12 layers deep. Above them, lopsided stone tablets were crammed on to mounds of earth.
Burials began here in the early 15th century, although earlier gravestones were brought in from a cemetery nearby. Decorative reliefs on the ancient, crumbling headstones indicate the name of the deceased or their occupation: a pair of scissors, for example, indicates a tailor. The black headstones are the oldest, carved from 15th-century sandstone; the white ones, made from marble, date from the 16th and 17th centuries.
This museum is part of the Židovské Muzeum (Jewish Museum).