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Prague Mysteria Pragensia

If Prague’s Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments proves a little too well-behaved and respectable for you, then perhaps you should switch gears a little bit and explore the two museums that make up the Mysteria Pragensia. Tapping into Prague’s rich occult and magickal history, the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians, and its sister museum down the street, The Museum of Ghosts and Legends, offer up all the gruesome wax dummies and delicious strange lore you want from a proper tourist trap museum.

Just across the monument-lined Charles Bridge you will find the first of the two museums. A giant cloaked Grim Reaper beckons you away from your money and into The Prague Museum of Ghosts and Legends (Mostecka 18, Prague 1). There is a lot of reading material in the museum, so if you are keen on standing around a ghost-themed room, reading scrolls about headless Knight Templars, ghostly maidens, drunken water spirits, and other tales of the supernatural, your hunger for such tales will be well satiated. The scrolls are mounted throughout displays featuring mock-ups of graveyards, alchemical workshops, taverns, and other such settings.

After getting your fill of reading and clicking the lights on spooky dioramas, descend a spiral staircase into the museum’s piece de resistance — the Street of Ghosts. There you will get to walk through full-scale displays depicting many of the legends and ghosts you read about upstairs. Gory stumps, green ghouls, and artfully hovering baby dolls highlight your stroll down this supernatural avenue. Yes, it’s totally ridiculous, but amongst all the corpses and bloody stumps and looped audio of clinking chains and moans, I did manage to learn rather a good number of great ghost stories and local legends. Plus, it’s not like I’m morally opposed to museums full of bloody wax dummies.

Just a little ways up the hill you will find the second half of the museum (there is a deal if you buy tickets to both, and I can’t imagine anyone who reads Teleport City not wanting to do both), The Museum of Alchemists and Magicians (Jansky vrsek 8, Prague 1). The structure of the museum is basically the same: the first half is a room (smaller than the one at Ghosts and Legends) with a ton of reading material in multiple languages printed on mounted scrolls. There’s a spooky room full of alchemists and light-up runes, as well as a few other bits of alchemical ephemera. Most of the stories revolve around Emperor Rudolf II, who was obsessed with alchemy much to the consternation of the church of which he was the ruler (among other things he ruled). During his reign, Prague developed its reputation as the magickal capital of the world, and there was no more infamous an alchemist than Edward Kelley (except maybe Rabbi Loew).

The second half of the museum requires a hike up a spiral staircase into a tower, purported by the owners to be the very tower where Edward Kelley (probably) did some of his best alchemical work (or charlatanism; whichever). The tower attic is a largish jumble of alchemical ephemera, most of it fake or recreation but still really cool to walk through. Teetering stacks of old books and grimoires, displays of alchemical studies and labs, giant bellows, skulls on desks, and of course, a few wax dummies. Nailed to the wood beams around the alchemist’s tower are excerpts from old guides, which offer sage advise like “be thee careful around the fire of the bellows, especially if thou havest a wooden leg.” Like Ghosts and Legends, you get out of it what you bring into it, and I brought into it the hope to learn a little about alchemy in Prague while being entertained by dioramas and jittering plastic skeletons. I left happy.

And I left happier still because connected to the museum is a tavern, The Kellyxir, where a friendly young woman served me an inexpensive mug or two of Gambrinus and a plate of tasty goulash and bread dumplings. The pub is themed to fit in, with alchemical recipes and rants scrawled on the walls, the ceiling lined with beakers and glass tubes, adn the bar itself lit up with spooky Mario Bava lightning. Well worth stopping in for a half litre and a bite.