Of all the fabulous sites Rebecca and I saw on our trip, I have to say that Prague’s awesome Alchemy Museum, aka Speculum Alchemie, was one of the highlights. I’d found out about it online and decided we HAD to see it.
What happened is that Prague had some very bad floods in recent decades and in one flood, some of the streets collapsed, revealing parts of the old Medieval/Renaissance city. The building at number 1 Haštalská Street somehow survived the 19th century destruction of the Jewish ghetto, and the floods revealed the 16th century alchemist’s lab and other underground rooms and passages. The decision was made to open and underground area it as a museum. I’m so glad they did.
We entered the shop with it’s fascinating displays, including two products they sell based on original recipes found in a very old book closed inside a metal box. It’s a miracle that it survived. I thought about buying some Elixir of Eternal Youth, but I was afraid the bottle wouldn’t make it home in one piece. The other choices are Elixir of Love, Elixir of Memory and drinkable gold.
We paid our entrance fees and were led through the door to the inner sanctum by Victor, a young man doing his very first tour in English. After the manager unlocked the door, we entered the alchemist’s study which included tall bookcases, artwork with an alchemical theme, and two replica gowns based on actual 16th gowns worn by one of the mistresses of Emperor Rudolf II who was particularly supportive of all things occult, including alchemy. We also viewed an old grimoire of alchemist remedies.
I was a little surprised to learn that many alchemists set up shop in the Jewish ghetto, but Victor explained that they had two good reasons for doing so: 1) they studied the Kabbalah, and 2) in this area they were away from the prying eyes of the Catholic clergy who did not approve. In excavating they found a tunnel that went toward Prague Castle.
To our delight, the bookcase was moved aside to reveal a door to the laboratory underground. (I’d always wanted to see one of those moving bookcases we see in movies in person. Very cool.) We followed Victor down the stone steps and through dark and suitably spooky passages that defied my iPad’s photographic ability. Luckily, Rebecca had her camera with her and got some amazing photos. My thanks to her for sharing them with us. Obviously I do not recommend this tour to anyone who is claustrophic.
There were several rooms underground, including the lab with it’s brick kiln and still, plus what appeared to be a storage room. Don’t ask me what that white stuff is hanging from the ceiling.
Alchemists were forerunners of modern chemists, and when I think about the smells emanating from my high school chemistry lab, I can’t imagine working in a lab like this one with candlelight and little ventilation. It had to be hot and smelly, and a man had to be dedicated to his craft. You can view more pictures at the museum’s photo gallery.
On leaving the museum we headed back to Hotel Rott for lunch and a chance to rest in the room for a bit. Our feet and knees were pretty sore after our walk and underground tour. Later in the afternoon, we walked to the nearby Choco Museum where we looked at the displays, and then went wild in the chocolate store. We went back to the room with delicious chocolate marzipan and chocolate covered Brazil nuts. I’m an admitted chocoholic, with a preference for dark chocolate.