There must be a reason why Franz Kafka was able to bring his monsters to life here in Prague. At night, when one gets lost in the small lanes of Josefov (Prague’s Jewish quarter), it is not difficult to imagine what inspired him and feel a little of that mystic magnetism that this city still irradiates.
Prague and the Czech Republic have always cast a dark shadow; this was the capital of alchemy in the 16th century, the birthplace of the Golem, a long time home for the still undeciphered Voynich manuscript and for the Codex Gigas, otherwise known as the Devil’s Bible.
In 1230 some members of the famous Knight Templars, an order that managed to become very powerful and were therefore persecuted by the Church, were given asylum in Prague by King Wenceslas; here they were allowed to transfer to other orders and could prosper again inspiring other groups such as the Knights of St. John. Today in the middle of Mala Strana (the area below the Castle) visitors can walk over the sign of the knights passage in Maltezske namesti where their signature is everywhere in the form of Maltese crosses.
Prague is said to be part of a triangle of white magic that includes Turin and Lyon: countless of gargoyles and symbols decorate its buildings testifying for the cities’ esoteric nature.
Freemasonry also left many signs in Prague, although it went through hard times, being suppressed under the Austrian rule by Francis II, after the Second World War, and during communism. Many are the masonic symbols that one can still spot on buildings facades, from the all-seeing eye to the square and compass and many references to the sun and the moon.
Alchemists, the precursors of today chemists, were thriving in Prague for a long time. Their research was going into many directions but their main goals were finding the philosophers stone, the panacea (a universal medicine that would cure all diseases and give eternal life) and a way to convert lead into gold.
Contrary to popular belief the Golden lane (Zlata ulicka) was never the theater of alchemical research, nor the residence of any alchemists: the houses in this lane were built, instead, for Rudolf II archers. The white Mihulka tower within the perimeter of Prague Castle, on the other hand, was used as a laboratory by these early scientist. As Terri Windling writes “Rudolfine Prague was glittering and surreal, a city teeming with alchemists, astrologists, necromancers, soothsayers, artists, musicians, brilliant mathematicians, and religious zealots of every stripe and color”.