Prague, the city on the Vlatava river, is not only one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals, it is also one of its most haunted. This bustling, cosmopolitan Czech city is sited amid the tranquil Bohemian countryside, which is home to dozens of brooding castles and historic towns, whose appearance has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. It is hardly surprising that a place with so many layers of history, that has seen battles, murders, executions and assassinations aplenty, as well as many of the key moments in the story of Europe, should also boast more than its fair share of ghosts. In the late Middle Ages, during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperors, Prague’s position as the crossroads of Europe aided its growth into a magnificent city (at that time far larger and more important than Paris or London). In the 16th century the Austrian Habsburgs took over and built many of the Baroque palaces and gardens that delight visitors today, few of whom suspect the many secrets and supernatural mysteries that lie beneath the glossy veneer. Whether you are a believer, a sceptic, interested in the unexplained or simply looking for a good old-fashioned scare, learning more about the dark side of Prague is a fascinating process. The narrow lanes, cobbled alleys, ancient churches and historic monuments of Prague are brimming over with tales of alchemists, murderers, executioners, and the many unfortunate souls who once lived there. Some of them are said to linger in these places, and who knows, perhaps they can still be seen today…
Prague is one of the most supernatural cities in Europe, with a history rich in magic, murder and the mysterious. For many years it has been a magnet for students of the occult and in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a meeting point for alchemists and astrologers during the reign of Emperor Rudolf II. The architecture of Prague is covered in esoteric symbols which can reveal many secrets to those who know how to read them. With an array of twisting cobblestone streets and large street lamps the night falls quickly in this historic city, complete with dancing shadows and the distinct feeling of the fantastic. It surprises many visiting Prague for the first time to discover that the capital of the thriving, modern Czech Republic should in many ways resemble a city out of a fairytale fantasy, complete with castles and folk dressed in all manner of strange garb. One of the city’s most popular legends is the story of the Golem of Prague. During the reign of Rudolf II, Rabbi Judah Loew created the golem to protect the Jewish quarter of the city and its citizens. At this time the majority of Prague’s Jews were being attacked and they went about their days in fear, until the Golem came, that is. Rabbi Loew created the golem according to the Cabala, which specified that he be made of clay from the banks of the Vltava River. So frightening and effective was the golem that the city’s rulers promised to bring an end to the persecution of Jews, if only the Rabbi would deactivate his terrifying clay creation. This he duly did and the golem walked the night no more – although it is said that the secrets of his making are still located somewhere in Prague.
In the magical labyrinth of the Old Town there once was an elegant Templar Knight who rode a graceful and noble white horse. Nowadays this grand knight is one of Prague’s best-loved ghosts even though he also happens to be headless! The Headless Templar can be found with his head in his hand riding along the cobblestone street on his faithful steed, challenging the non-faint of heart to release him from the grips of his ghostly servitude. In order for the Headless Templar to be free, a living person must be strong and brave enough to seize his noble horse, grab the knight’s sword and pierce it through his ghostly heart. One of the more tragic ghosts of Prague is the Murdered Nun. The child of a wealthy nobleman, this unhappy soul tragically fell in love outside of her class with a poor knight (perhaps the Headless Templar?). Her noble father refused to give his consent for marriage and as payment for her unforgivable sin she was to be sent to live in St. Agnes Convent, where she still resides today but only in spectral form. The night before her transfer to the convent she decided to follow her heart and met with her beloved but was, alas, instead met by her father, who in an outrage stabbed her for shaming him. The Murdered Nun appears to be quite a moody phantom, one evening she might be covered in blood and weeping bitterly and other evenings one may find her smiling tenderly at unhappy lovers.
There are many tales like these in the hauntingly beautiful city of Prague. Here you will find stories of drowned maids, gluttonous merchants, water sprites, French soldiers, begging skeletons, mad barbers and even an Iron Man. Perhaps more interesting than all of these, however, is the face of Prague itself, which is a cryptologist’s dream, covered as it is by mysterious symbols and arcane iconography. Prague has always cast a dark shadow, as befits a city that was the capital of alchemy in the 16th century and 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 persecuted by the Church, were given asylum in Prague by Good King Wenceslas; here they were allowed to transfer to other orders and could prosper again by 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 gargoyles and symbols decorate its buildings, testifying to the cities’ esoteric nature. Freemasonry also left its mark on Prague: many are the masonic symbols that one can still spot on the facades of buildings, from the all-seeing eye to the square and compass and many references to the sun and the moon. As a commentator famously once wrote of the city during the late Renaissance: “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”. So what are you waiting for? Visit Prague and discover its many secrets for yourself (if you dare!).