Jews settlement in Krakow dates back to the early Middle Ages. At the beginning, they inhabited close to the St. Anne’s Church. Then the city council assigned them near to the Szczepanski Square, but at the end of the 15th century Polish king Jan Olbracht resettled Jewish community to the neighboring Kazimierz district (which was a separate city at that time). Why there exactly? Because another Jewish community already existed around the Szeroka (Broad) St., so they could connect themselves. Jews have lived in Kazimierz for more than 400 years and during that time they established few synagogues, prayer houses, baths, cemeteries and schools. Christians respected their lifestyle, language, customs and religious distinctiveness. That is why we still can find in Kazimierz unique remains of Jewish culture.
Szeroka St. is closed with the oldest synagogue in Poland – the Old Synagogue, a Gothic building from the 15th century. At the beginning, there was only a prayer house for men, but the community quickly decided to extend it with an extra space for women and other additional outbuildings (eg. school). During World War II the synagogue was taken over by the German Treuhand and used as a warehouse. After post-war reconstructions it became a belonging of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow. You can see there an exhibition devoted to Jewish religion and traditions.
Krakow Kazimierz tour – monuments
In Szeroka Street we can find another synagogue – the 16th-century Remuh Synagogue (New Synagogue), with surrounding cemetery (set here because of the lack of space in Jewish Kazimierz). Its foundation relates to royal merchant and banker Izrael Isserles Auerbach, who in 1553 donated his private estate for a prayer house. But the name Remuh connects with Rabbi Moses Isserles (1525–1572), known by the Hebrew acronym ReMA, who is famed for writing a collection of commentaries and additions of Ashkenazi traditions and customs. After the war, the synagogue became the property of the Jewish community and to this day runs as an active prayer house to local Israelites.
Walking through the narrow streets of Kazimierz, you should visit Miodowa (Honey) St., where Synagogue Tempel stands. It establishment was an idea of the Association of Progressive Jews who wanted to assimilate with Polish nation (eg. by educating young people – growing Jewish intelligence). The Moorish Revival building was designed by Ignacy Hercok and built in 1860–1862 (designed on the pattern of the Leopoldstädter Tempel, in Vienna). Services in this synagogue took place according to the guidelines agreed by innovative German rabbis (the most famous of local preachers, moral and spiritual teacher was Uzziah Thon).
Plac Nowy (the New Square named also the ‘Jewish Square’) became lately an art, cultural, food and shopping center of Kazimierz. It is visited not only by locals, but also by tourists. The common name of the circular building that stands in the very center of the square is ‘Okrąglak’. Since 1927 till the World War II it functioned as the ritual poultry slaughterhouse.
Picturesque streets of Kazimierz conceal four more synagogues built in the 16th and 17th century, definitely worth visiting. These are: Popper Synagogue, High Synagogue, Isaac Synagogue and Kupa.
Planning a tour of the Jewish Kazimierz it is good to ensure that our walk will not be on a Saturday or time of any of the Jewish holidays, because synagogues and cemeteries are closed then. Let us also remember that while visiting above monuments, men are obliged to cover their head, and women should hide legs and arms.