History of the Jewish quarter
The Mikulov Jewish community soon became one of the largest in Moravia and that is why the institution of the Moravian Regional Rabbi was situated there before mid 16th century. The Rabbi was seated in Milulov till 1851. Mikulov was also a major spiritual centre of Jewishness and Jewish religion. The Jews made up their living by small trades and crafts since 17th and 18th centuries.
The life of not only the Jewish community, but the town as a whole was significantly affected by the large fire of 10 August 1719, when the whole Jewish quarter was burnt down. Following new building of the Ghetto in nearly identical manner another fire came on 22 April 1737. At that time the Mikulov Jewish quarter with its 600 settled families was the largest in Moravia and later the number grew even further. Thanks to the major social changes in the mid 19th century the Jews became equal too and so they could freely acquire property and move house. The changes resulted in arrivals of mew Jewish families from the overcrowded Ghettos in Brno and Vienna. In 1848 the Jewish community became a separate entity with its own Mayor and administrative authorities, to be cancelled in 1919. Since then the Jews and their quarter became part of the town. The end of Jewishness in Mikulov came with World War II, when just a couple of them survived and never renewed the Jewish quarter in Mikulov again.
The first houses of the Jewish quarter were wooden. Only after the destructive fires in mid 16th century wood was replace with stone. That is why most of the preserved houses have renaissance core. As more and more Jewish families came the size of the Jewish quarter grew. After arrival of the refugees from Vienna in 1670 the Jews inhabited the Hlavní and the Příčná streets (today ´s Husova and Alfonse Muchy streets) and also the Zámecká and the Úzká streets (opposite the synagogue). On the other end the Jewish quarter extended as far as the Jewish cemetery. A new design of Ghetto was prepared after the fire in 1719, the Jewish and the Christian houses were completely separated and protective walls against further fires were built. Wood and shingles for the roofs were strictly prohibited. Better spatial conditions for the Jews were brought about by the changes in the mid 19th century and the end to their isolation. After 1945 a number of the original Jewish houses were destroyed. Out of the original 317 houses just 90 survived. Half of the preserved Jewish houses were rightly announced cultural monument recently.
1. Upper Synagogue
Also called the Altschul, original structure dating from 1550, expanded in 1689, and rebuilt after a fire in 1719-23 (probably with the participation of architect J.Ch.Oedtl) with a new Baroque layout, where four cupolas are vaulted into a four-columned pillar in the middle of the hall, forming the pulpit, or almemor. Today it represents the last preserved temple of the Polish or Lwow type in the country. The Tabernacle was the work of sculptor I. Lengelacher. The ceiling vaults are today decorated with stucco, but originally had Hebrew liturgical texts. The synagogue underwent general renovation in 1977-89 as a venue for cultural events. Protected cultural monument.
2. House, Husova 30
Common house of the Jewish quarter, with Renaissance core and vaulting, rebuilt in Classicism, including the facade, cultural monument. The basic layout and disposition of most of the houses is still Renaissance – this is shown by the cross vaulting on massive stone walls (also see Husova 15, 19, and 42). Houses in the Jewish quarter were marked with Roman numerals I to CLXIX to distinguish them from Christian houses. A commonplace in the ghetto was the so-called condominium, that is, the physical division of the house among several partial owners, both horizontally and vertically – the address number was then subdivided into a, b, c, and so on.
3. House, Husova 32
Typical Jewish quarter house with what was once a public inner passageway, Renaissance core, courtyard wing with outer Classicist stairway; cultural monument. In the cramped quarters of the ghetto, the inner passageways (usually narrow, vaulted) served to cross-connect the main streets, here from Hlavní=Židovská Street onto Alejní Square. The passage was, alas – as is common today – walled up by its new owner, and it has become part of the house. The ground floor of most of the Jewish houses were used as shops or artisans’ workshops, while the upper floors and courtyard wings served as residences.
4. House, Husova 48
A former Jewish boys’ school from 1845 to the 1860’s, when the house at Hlavní 28/1082 was adapted for it (existed here until 1919). House with Renaissance core and vaulting, renovated in Classicism (Prussian vaults date from this era), upstairs are wooden beam roofs, restored in 1995 for a pharmacy; protected cultural monument. The Jewish elementary school (cheder) was attended by boys from five years of age, as was mandatory under the Enlightenment reforms of Emperor Josef II in the late 18th century. Instruction was mainly Hebrew, the Torah, and the foundations of Judaism.
5. House, Husova 50
House with Renaissance core and vaulting and one-columned corner arcade in front, a typical element for finer houses in the Moravian Jewish quarters, where the field of a cross-vault arches over onto one Tuscan pillar. The facade dates from a Classicist renovation; the house is a cultural monument. The streets of the old Jewish quarter were paved with irregular boulders. From the late 17th century the Mikulov ghetto had its own aqueduct and simple sewer system.
6. House, Husova 52
Former Jewish nursing/old people’s home from the mid 18th century to the end of the 19th century. The house has a Renaissance core and vaulting, later modified; Empire facade. Created by joining two Renaissance houses after a fire in 1784, courtyard wing built in 1824; protected cultural monument. In the courtyard stands the one-time Michelstädter Synagogue, which David Michelstädter built in 1697 for his own private worship. Later it served the residents of the old folks’ home, still later the interior was modified for everyday purposes. An elegant narrow staircase from the court leads up to the former prayer room.
7. Houses, A. Muchy 18-20
Originally Renaissance buildings with interior vaulting, house no.20 with Art Noveau facade, cultural monument. In the courtyard parts of the two houses are the remnants of the Ashkenazi Synagogue, built in Baroque style by Lazar or Beer Salomon in 1675 for private worship; it was used until the mid-19th century. It was accessible via a hallway from building no.18, and from the courtyard by a stone stairway to the upper floor. The room, measuring about 9x5 m, had a flat ceiling. A remnant of brick and mortar outer walls with a niche for the Torah between two windows on the eastern side, and the stone washbasin of the one-time foyer on the west side still stand. Across the street and over stood house no.104, which bore on its facade the Hebrew symbol for the end or division of a Jewish ghetto – the eruv.
8. House, Husova 9
Very valuable and picturesque house with Renaissance layout and vaulting (barrel, with cross lunettes), courtyard wing in Baroque. Its facade is adorned with a two-columned entryway arcade. In modern times it has been joined with the neighboring, also Renaissance house no.11; completely restored in 1993-94; cultural monument. Among the notable architectural details of the houses in the Jewish quarter are the stone-profiled door frames, iron-plated doors, and artistically-shaped wrought iron bars: unfortunately there is not even a trace of such characteristic elements as mezuzah, or Hebrew inscriptions.
You can also find Stolpersteins in Mikulov. Translated literally, these are stones you trip over or stumbling stones, though they are also known as “the stones of the disappeared”. They are paving stones with a bronze surface set into the pavement in front of the houses of victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime. The educational trail features a Stolperstein in the street Husova dedicated to Anna Pisková who was murdered in Warsaw in 1944. You can find more Stolpersteins in Mikulov in the street Koněvova dedicated to Hilda Pisková and Hana Hlavenková.
10. Hotel Tanzberg, Husova 8
The aboveground part of the former rabbinate, with corner arcade, was razed in the 1970’s, and a hotel and restaurant built on the site. In the second basement, at a depth of 10.5 m below the level of the street, an extraordinarily valuable monument of medieval origin has been preserved: a round water cistern, probably part of the ritual bath (mikveh). The bath was used by religious Jews – men and women – for weekly symbolic cleansing before the Sabbath. A bust of Alfons Mucha on the facade commemorates the painters’ stay in 1935.
11. House, Husova 4
Ehemalige jüdische Knabenschule. Haus mit barocker Disposition und Gewölben (Tonnengewölbe mit Lünetten, preußische Gewölbe, Kappen), nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg für Wohnzwecke umgebaut. Kulturdenkmal. Ursprünglicher Sitz der Grundschule (Cheder) von Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts bis 1844, damals sechsklassig. 1844 - 1852 war hier das jüdische Taubstummeninstitut untergebracht, das Josua Hirsch Kollisch und der Lehrer Joel Deutsch leiteten (1852 nach Wien verlegt). Nachbarhaus Husova 6 mit schöner Barockfassade.
12. Lormovo náměstí
Lormovo Náměstí or Lorm Square is where you can find the family home of the famous Mikulov native Hieronym Lorm, where a commemorate plaque with a portrait was unveiled in 2012 on the occasion of the 190th anniversary of his birth. Hieronym Lorm was a writer, poet, philosopher and journalist and worked in Austria and Germany. After going blind and then deaf he created an alphabet that made it possible for him to communicate with his surroundings. His alphabet was based on touching various points on the hand and later became a means of communication for deaf-and-blind people all over the world.
13. House, Brněnská 9
Excellent example of bourgeois Renaissance architecture from around 1590 with original layout, cross vaults, and an inner courtyard with arcaded gallery on the second floor. The Jewish community bought it, with permission from the nobility, in 1798; proceeds from its rental went to the David Oppenheim Foundation for the support of the local theology school (bet ha-midrash). Cultural monument. The mandatory separation of the ghetto from the rest of the town’s buildings was marked by gates (especially in three places), wooden railings, barrier chains, and outer walls.
14. Ceremony Hall
Sophisticated structure in neo-historical style built in 1898 from designs by famous architect Max Fleischer (1841 Prostějov – 1905 Vienna). After the war the building served for storage; now being gradually remodeled as an art workshop. Cultural monument. A necessary part of any cemetery is the morgue, in the mid-19th century larger Jewish communities were building opulent ceremony halls, where in the main hall last farewells were taken with the dead; adjoining rooms served for the last cleansing (tahara), or as storage of articles, cloakroom, garage for the funeral carriage, and the apartment of the caretaker or gravedigger.
15. Jewish Cemetery
Spread out over the western slope below Kozí hrádek, this cemetery dates from the 15th century, and was expanded several times to its present area of 19,180 m2. Of the 4000 or so gravestones, the oldest legible one dates from 1605. This extraordinarily valuable cemetery has gravestones in Renaissance, Baroque, and Classicist styles. Their artisanship and rich ornamentation became the model for other South Moravian Jewish cemeteries. On the rabbi’s mound lie the famous Moravian provincial rabbis M.M. Krochmal (d.1637), Sh.Sh. Horowitz (1778), and M. Benet (1829); it is the destination of pilgrims from all over the world. The area also holds memorials to fallen soldiers of the First World War, and 21 Hungarian Jews massacred in 1945. The cemetery is a protected cultural monument.
The medieval mikveh is found on the site of the former Lázeňské náměstí (Bath Square). The Jewish mikveh served for symbolic ritual purification for Orthodox Jews before the beginning of the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays. It was used by women mostly following menstruation, before their wedding and after childbirth.
The mikveh is described in the Old Testament. Certain rules applied to its construction, meaning that the appearance of the mikveh is roughly the same whether seen in excavations from Biblical times and the few surviving medieval baths in Europe or in new structures.
The mikveh is, in essence, a brick tank in the shape of a cube located in the basement or ground floor of a house in the synagogue district. 5–7 steps generally lead down to the bottom of the mikveh. The bath has to contain clean natural water, must have an inflow and outflow of water, and must be deep enough for an adult person to be completely submerged.
The institution of ritual baths must have existed in all Jewish communities in Moravia, with perhaps a number of them in the larger ghettos. The mikveh in Mikulov was discovered by chance during archaeological research ordered before the beginning of new building work inside the town conservation area.
It was found in the cellar of a residential building, perfectly preserved, with merely a cave-in caused by a collapsed roof. It was estimated to be three hundred years old, which means that it must have been built during the 17th century.
The mikveh in Mikulov has been preserved thanks to the work of the Association of Friends of Jewish Culture in Mikulov. Mikulov Municipal Authority has undertaken the reconstruction itself, with the areas leading to the cellar and the mikveh itself being repaired and a new entrance to these subterranean areas being constructed. The mikveh has been opened to the public.