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Medieval Heritage

Medieval Heritage

The medieval Street of the Jews (Platea Judeorum) existed until 1454 on the site of today’s University Street (Univerzitní), and comprised up to two dozen houses, including also a Schul or synagogue. Entry to the ghetto was afforded by two gates, today long gone, the first leading from the Dominican church of St Michael and the second from the end of today’s Denis Street (Denisova).

A third possible point of entry, albeit with some difficulty, was the so-called Jewish Gate in the city ramparts. The mass of the original four-storey gate tower is to be found today on the line of Gothic fortifications extending to the courtyard of the former Jesuit seminary. The Jewish Gate opened at a crook in the ramparts above rough terrain, accessible from a steep path running down to the esplanade by St Michael’s Fields (Michalský výpad), now a public park, towards the settlement then known as Závodí. The gate dates from the 14th century, and remains in relatively good condition beneath the additions made by later builders.

We do not know the exact location of the medieval synagogue in the Street of the Jews, except that it was on its eastern side. The building was still standing in 1549, but the entire eastern side of the Street of the Jews was redeveloped during the Baroque period (1660-67) and turned into a Jesuit seminary (building descriptive number 225) *. The Corpus Christi chapel was built on roughly the same site as the synagogue and gave its name to the whole street (Božího těla), which in more recent times became known as University Street (Univerzitní).

The medieval Jewish cemetery, first mentioned in 1363, was located on the south-western side of the redoubt of the city ramparts in the vicinity of Německý Povel. A relic of this burial place is to be found today in the collection of the Olomouc Civic Museum, in the form of a medieval Jewish headstone bearing Hebrew letters which was evidently re-chiseled into an embrasure, or loophole, and set into the city’s fortified walls. It was discovered in 1905 during construction work in Tanner Street (Koželužská). Several other gravestones still remain in the masonry of the ramparts.

In November 1997, during a dig under the presbytery floor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Sokol Street (Sokolská), archaeologists discovered fragments of three substantial stone slabs with Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1341 to 1396 which had been re-used as building masonry. These slabs are currently located in Muzeum of Olomouc.

* Note: In the course of archaeological research for the new user of the building of the Palacký University of Olomouc in 1995, the remains of stone walling were discovered under the floor which pre-date the premises and originally formed part of an older, early medieval building. However, according to the head of the research team, Dr Josef Bláha, investigations of their significance are yet to be concluded.

© Jaroslav Klenovský