New museum documents history of alchemy in Prague

The Museum of Old Prague Alchemists and Magi, photo: Miroslav Dvořák

As of this week, the Czech capital Prague has a brand new attraction for visitors and its citizens alike. A new museum just a stone’s throw from Prague Castle looks back at an era when outstanding scientists and alchemists, brought to Prague from across Europe by the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II., carried out their experiments in laboratories around the city.

The Museum of Old Prague Alchemists and Magi,  photo: Miroslav Dvořák
A bubbling sound coming out of a wooden and glass box conjures up the mysterious atmosphere of a 16th-century alchemy laboratory on the ground floor of a picturesque courtyard building in Prague’s Malá Strana district, now housing The Museum of Old Prague Alchemists and Magi. The museum’s director Filip Jan Zvolský explains the purpose of the apparatus.

“This machine is known as the philosopher’s egg and was used to produce the philosopher’s stone. This is just one of many exhibits here on the ground floor of our museum. Here you can find all kinds of information on topics related to alchemy and Prague. You can step onto the magic circle drawn on the floor and see what happens to those who abuse the art of alchemy. After seeing this part of the exhibition, visitors can proceed on to the lab which we shall see now.”

Filip Jan Zvolský takes me up a creaking spiralling staircase to the “Kelley Tower” – named after the 16th-century English alchemist Edward Kelley who is said to have lived here during his stay at the court of Emperor Rudolf II. At the top of the staircase we enter a secret alchemy laboratory in a dark loft.

Edward Kelley
“The laboratory itself is one large exhibit. It has many corners and displays many smaller objects. The actual core of the alchemy laboratory is a system of furnaces where different liquids are heated up and boiled. Over there, we can see the process of creating of an artificial human being and in another part of the room we can watch the creation of the philosopher’s stone and base metals being turned into gold – but come and see for yourself.”

Bellows used for fanning the fire in the furnace, cauldrons, retorts, dried herbs and stuffed animals – those are just some of the many exhibits on display in the alchemy laboratory. Another part is dedicated to the English mathematician, astronomer and alchemist John Dee as well as his collaborator Edward Kelley who both spent time in Prague and became part of its myths and legends.

The Museum of Old Prague Alchemists and Magi will be open daily from 10 am to 8 pm with all information available in Czech as well as English.