Located just outside the Jewish Quarter in Prague (about a 4-minute walk), I highly recommend a visit to Speculum Alchamiae: Museum of Alchemy. It was one of the coolest experiences we had in Prague, which says a lot, as all the experiences were amazing. Why??? This museum is the gateway to the archaic underground labs that were used as an alchemical (medieval predecessor of chemistry) workshop by Emperor Rudolf II in the 16th century. The house on top, which is equally famous, was built to look like a “normal” herbal pharmacy, with the real shenanigans happening underneath. The home is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and is believed to be ✨the 2nd oldest building in all of Prague✨, with the first written reference of it dating back to 900 AD.
Located at Haštalská 1, 110 00 Staré Město, Czechia, within Praha 1, the museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm. It’s pretty affordable, at 200 CZK per adult ($8.50 USD), 150 CZK for seniors 65+ ($6.37 USD), and 70 CZK for children aged 7-14 ($2.97 USD). We arrived around 3:15pm but were asked to please come back at 4pm. The guide said they usually run tours every 30 minutes, but due to the holiday(s), they were short- staffed and had to run every hour. This caused the tour to be rather full, which was unfortunate because the space within the study and the tunnels is not large. It was hard to navigate the narrow passageways or get a clear, unfettered view of the preserved workshops, which are locked behind metal gates and can only be observed via a small area. I’m assuming it was simply unfortunate timing, but just something to be aware of with large groups.
Regardless of the space issues, it was an amazing experience and one I will appreciate forever. If you love visiting historical places, you cannot get more historical than the 2nd oldest building in Prague that an emperor in the 1500’s turned into a secret, underground alchemist lab! Also, not only are there the underground labs, but also ancient tunnels that connect to three important Prague locations – Prague Castle, Old Town Hall, and the Barracks. The first tunnel was discovered when the home underwent reconstruction in 2002 after a major flood, which exposed the tunnel beneath the staircase. Sadly, the guide did not take us through any of these tunnels.
So, what exactly were they doing in the alchemist labs underneath this historic home? Allegedly, creating the Eternal Youth Elixir, the Philosopher’s Stone, turning non-precious metals into gold, and creating many other unbelievable potions and concoctions. Of course, these did not work; however, that didn’t stop them from experimenting. As for why it’s underground? While alchemy was technically legal within Prague during the 15th and 16th centuries, it was heavily “looked down upon”, so many worked in secret. It certainly wasn’t apropos for an emperor to participate in or financially fund.
Lastly, per the guide, many of the paintings and furniture within the study/upstairs workshop are original, some dating back to the 16th century. This includes the desk, chair, fireplace, and paintings of the elements on the wall. The only thing that is not original is the bookcase, although he said it was built to resemble the original. The door to the secret, underground tunnels and labs is located within this bookcase.
Overall, if you’re ever vising Prague, you must take a tour of this ancient and super remarkable museum/home! It’s historical on several levels (both the labs and the house), and important to Prague’s history as a whole. Alchemy is represented throughout Prague history and European history in general, so it’s fantastic to visit somewhere that was monumental to this movement. You can also buy many “fake” potions (depending on your beliefs), including for money, love, power, or luck, upstairs in the main entrance area. Please check it out!