Alchemy Museum: Speculum Alchemiae
The Alchemy Museum, Speculum Alchemiae, is a small but very interesting museum exploring the history of alchemy in Prague. The visitor takes a guided tour through underground vaults and visits areas where alchemists practiced their art. The vaults and the alchemy laboratory were discovered only in 2002 when a tiny square in front of the museum collapsed due to severe flooding of the Vltava River that year. The Alchemy Museum is housed in the former home of Edward Kelley, a famous sixteenth-century alchemist who, like all alchemists, tried to turn ordinary metals into gold. He claimed to have succeeded. Alchemy was, in fact chemical experiments and the forerunner of chemistery.
Alchemy Museum and Herbal Pharmacy
In the fifteenth century, a herbal pharmacy was established in the present-day Alchemist Museum. It was no coincidence that this establishment was located in this street because the premises were on the trade route leading via Spain to the Far East. Traders who visited the house arrived with exotic spices and products which were in later centuries also useful for the alchemist who were to set up alchemist workshops in the vaults of the building.
Alchemy in Prague
In the sixteenth century, at the invitation of Rudolf II, famous alchemists settled in Prague. The alchemy laboratory, in Haštalská Street, was linked by underground passages to Prague Castle and Old Town Square, an escape route in case of an emergency because Christendom forbade the practice of alchemy on pain of death.
Guided Tour Alchemy Museum
The tour starts in a room cluttered with furniture and bookcases full of ancient books with recipes for potions and elixirs. Every alchemist had his own secret recipe which was written in code. The room is illuminated by a large chandelier decorated with Moses who is depicted with horns. This was a misunderstanding of the bible text. Two stuffed crocodiles adorn the mantelpiece. At the time of Rudolf II, it was thought that they were dragons who possessed magical powers and guarded the secret door.
Part of the bookcase is a secret door which leads down a spiral staircase to the vaults, a warren of underground rooms where elixirs were concocted. Rudolf II’s favourite potion was the elixir of Eternal Youth, especially brewed for him. It was made of 77 herbs and alcohol. Every morning, he took a spoonful to cleanse his body of toxins and negative thoughts.
The successors of Rudolf II were less enamored of alchemy because the Church was opposed to the magic spells required by alchemy; alchemy is a combination of magic and chemistry. The secret entrance to the vault was bricked up and only rediscovered in 2002. A very interesting find was a bottle with an elixir made in the time of Rudolf II. The liquid was analyzed and compared to the recipe in one of the old books and there was a match: it was the elixir of eternal youth. The tour ends in the reception hall which is a replica of a sixteenth-century pharmacy where elixirs were sold and are still sold today.
Related article: Alchemists, Rudolph II and Prague
Alchemy Museum / Speculum Alchemiae Prague
Mon – Sun: 10am – 6pm
Length of the tour: 30 minutes
Every half hour visitors can join a guided tour in English.