Everyone would agree that Prague is a city of rich and sometimes terrible history. In 1989, The Velvet Revolution precipitated the end of communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia. 1989—that’s not very long ago. Although some buildings and structures in Prague date back to medieval times, it seems to me that we often focus on the history of the last hundred years or so.
Lately, I’ve found myself enthralled by Renaissance Prague. I’ve been reading this:
Prague was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of both Charles IV and Rudolf II. It was called the Pearl of Europe, and was a centre of the arts and sciences. Rudolf II thought everyone should be able to believe what they wanted (to the annoyance of the church), and he himself had an eclectic set of beliefs. He believed in alchemy, and astrology, and the Kabbalah (ancient Jewish mysticism which has become popular in some places today). He yearned for the Philosopher’s Stone, and he believed in magic objects, numbers, and talismans such as bezoars (animal gallstones) for bringing good luck.
One thing in the book that gives you an idea of the world back then was the fact that as soon as he was born, Rudolf II was thrust into the carcass of a freshly slaughtered lamb, and kept there for three days.
I’m thinking of writing something set in Renaissance Prague, and I thought I’d mark anything about magic, alchemy, or superstition in the book that might be useful. I’m halfway through, and here’s the book:
Yesterday afternoon, while Lola was getting coiffed, I sat in a little cafe I found called The Farm: Urban Cafe and Coffee, and read my book. Sidenote: Look at this teapot and cup combo. The teapot is filled with boiling water and tons of fresh ginger and a few mint leaves.
The original story of Faust selling his soul to the devil was first published during Rudolf’s reign. The book said that a house on Karlovo Namesti (Charles Square) was named after Faust because of the building’s association with magic and alchemy. Rudolf’s astrologer, Jacub Krocinek lived there. Apparently, ‘his two sons came to a bitter end: the youngest killed his brother, apparently for alchemical treasure hidden in the walls of the house, and ended up on the gallows’. The author said that alchemy symbols have recently been discovered beneath the plaster. He lists other alchemists who lived there during the Renaissance, and he gave the address: Mladota’s Palace at the south end of Charles Square.
What was I to do? As soon as Lola was finished her spa afternoon (not exactly… they squeeze some very uncomfortable places because dogs need that, apparently), I asked her if she wanted to come on a little adventure, and she thought to herself for a minute…
… and then when I explained it would involve multiple escalators and metro trips and a large park, of course she was beside herself.
In the early evening, Lola and I walked around Karlovo Namesti and found the place. It’s part of a university now, and I read elsewhere that there quite a few spooky legends about the place.
We walked around it, and look what was right next door:
I think it’s an entrance to the church behind it:
Opposite the church is a Benedictine Monastery which was first founded in the fourteenth century (it’s been destroyed a rebuilt more than once).
Interestingly, the nearest tram stop is Moran, who was anciently a goddess of the Slav people.
I could just imagine alchemists moving between the shadows on these streets. Even if you read my post about the Alchemy Museum in Old Town, you probably won’t recall that in the floods of 2002, they discovered tunnels between the Alchemy Museum (which was really a science lab), Old Town Square, and the castle.
Who knows what else is hidden? This is such a beautifully dark, mysterious city. I love it.
Seriously, Prague is like Harry Potter but without the magic.