Alchemists, Rudolph II and Prague
Tucked against the castle walls, Golden Lane is a charming little street. In the sixteenth century during the reign of Rudolph II, the brightly painted cottages were the haunt of alchemists. Originally members of the imperial entourage, including alchemists, lived in this lane. In the seventeenth century goldsmiths settled in this alley is from then on known as the Golden Lane.
Emperor Rudolph II was fascinated by the theories of alchemists who claimed to have the keys to the secrets of the universe. Rudolph was a troubled man given to spells of insanity, one of the reasons why he invited John Dee and Edward Kelley well versed in occultism to come to Prague. These two Englishmen found a warm welcome at the Bohemian court and the Emperor became a devotee to their mystical arts.
What is Alchemy?
Alchemy is the application of scientific principles, as they were understood in the sixteenth century, to magic. Its main goal was to find the elixir of eternal life and to transform base metals into gold. All experiments were shrouded in mystery. Instructions were written in secret code some of which have never been deciphered. Many alchemists were quacks, yet their science was taken seriously and the seventeenth-century mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton, conducted alchemical investigations and became the forerunner of modern chemistry.
The alchemists lived close to Prague Castle, the seat of Rudolph II, in a narrow alley which is now known as the Golden Lane. In the eighteenth century the wooden cottages were replaced by brick ones. One century later, the lane became fashionable as an artists’ centre. Franz Kafka and his sister lived at No 22. The lane got neglected and turned into a slum. In the 1950s the residents were moved out and the cottages got a facelift and were painted in pastel colours. Today, the Golden Lane is a picturesque alley dedicated to selling souvenirs and visited by a multitude of tourists every day.
The Golden lane is part of the Prague Castle tour.