Speculum Alchemiae: Prague’s Secret to Eternal Youth
Nestled in the old Jewish quarter of Prague dwells a hidden alchemist trove, steeped in ancient lore. Most passersby wouldn’t notice it right away. Its facade, with blue shutters and potted plants, could deem it just another one of Prague’s charming storefronts. But stepping into Speculum Alchemiae, visitors are drawn into an unexpected concoction of history, magic, and secrecy.
The 16th-century building houses an alchemical laboratory — a subterranean maze riddled with underground tunnels and secret passageways. Commissioned by Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), who had an affinity for alchemy, the laboratory contained equipment to transmute metals into gold and ingredients to make elixirs. The concealed catacombs were rediscovered during Prague’s 2002 flood, which caused infrastructure in front of the building to collapse, thereby revealing its three underground tunnels leading to different parts of the city. It also unearthed the secret to defying old age: The Elixir of Eternal Youth. Said to prolong the lifeline of anyone who drinks it, the original recipe for the distillation (a blend of detoxifying herbs and alcohol) continues to be made by monks in a monastery outside of Prague. Staying true to tradition, fearless takers can purchase a variety of elixirs and potions in what was once an herbal pharmacy, now decorated with wax-sealed vials and hand-painted flasks. In the depths of the museum’s brick chambers, one can find a hidden bookcase door, wild boar taxidermy, and an original furnace harvesting the collective energy of the elements. It’s no wonder visitors leave the guided exhibit buzzing with a kind of spiritual revitalization.
Perhaps it’s this feeling that keeps Prague young — a vibrant, energetic city shimmering in all of its golden glory. One of the Latin inscriptions in the chamber reads: “Our gold is not an ordinary gold”. Indeed, there is nothing ordinary about the magic emanating from Speculum Alchemiae’s laboratory, a place still brewing with mystery and everlasting life nearly five centuries later.
Ileana Lobkowicz grew up in Prague. She was managing editor of The Gavel, Boston College’s online student publication, volunteered at a magazine written by Boston’s homeless community, and has published marketing content for two travel service companies and a non-profit organization. She is on a quest to share the hidden stories of Prague.