Prague is a city steeped in history both known and otherwise, and the darker side of the Czech capital’s past is brought to light in evocative displays at The Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague, which looks at some of the famous dabblers in the dark arts that have called the city home.
As king of much of eastern Europe and eventually Holy Roman Emperor during the 16th century, Rudolf II was not known as an especially effective ruler, but he is widely remembered for his interest and patronage of the occult arts. It was during his reign that he turned Prague into the unofficial capital of the dark arts. Funding a number of alchemists and other so-called sorcerers, most notably the likes of Edward Kelley and John Dee, Rudolf created possibly the most active period of occult practice in history.
Whether or not his patrons were simply charlatans wrapped in mystery (which they probably were), or bold proto-scientists, the legacy of these magicians and madmen is remembered with a carnival flair at The Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague. Consisting of two levels of displays and tableaux, the exhibits trace the history of Rudolf’s alchemists in the city, especially Kelley. The main floor has displays and replica artifacts of the trade alongside such fantastical scenes as a failed magician being stolen up into the ceiling by the Devil while cackling sorcerers huddle around the glowing runes beneath. The second floor, which claims to be the actual tower where the real Kelley performed his esoteric experiments, is decked out like an alchemist’s lab, all aged scrolls and stacked grimoires, complete with a half-completed homunculus, the ultimate alchemical achievement.
The museum is more than a little sensational in its presentation, but to be fair, these alchemists were likely more than a little bit showmen themselves. What better way to remember and learn about their arcane history than with a little bit of magical realism?