By: Maddie Ray
Prague is a beautiful Medieval city, rich in history steeped in blood. With its history dating back before the Middle Ages, dungeons tell stories of torture and death, and 13th century churches and cemeteries bear the marks of gruesome fates. Night falls quickly in this historic city, making way for dancing shadows, mischievous ghosts, and bone-chilling legends of the Czech lands. Time may progress and the living go on, but the horrors of Prague’s past still remain around every corner of its well-worn cobblestone streets. This itinerary focuses on Prague’s spooky side, so beware, your hair will stand on end.
12 AM : Old Town Square
Staroměstské nám., 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město
With a thousand years of existence under its belt, Old Town Square has been the center for important events throughout Czech’s history. Notice the large memorial in the square’s middle. This is the Jan Hus Memorial, a Bohemian religious leader in the 1300s. Hus was burned alive after refusing to renounce his religious beliefs, which conflicted with the Roman Catholic Church.
Where you are standing is also where 27 noblemen stood moments before being executed on June 21, 1621. These men had been involved in the Estates Uprising earlier that year when the Bohemian estates rebelled against the rule of the Habsburg dynasty. Thus, they were forced to pay for their actions. To do the job was famous executioner, Jan Mydlář. With swift blows from his finely sharpened sword, 27 nobles were ruthlessly decapitated, while three of the men hung lifeless from the gallows.
For over 600 years, Prague’s astronomical clock positioned on the southern wall of the Old Town Hall has mesmerized its visitors, but this magical machine holds dark secrets of its own. Legend has it clockmaster Hanus was in his home when Prague Councilors barged in and poured hot steel in Hanus’ eyes, leaving him blind. This prevented him from ever creating clocks more ornate than Prague’s.
As foreigners gathered to watch the magic of the clock unfold, revenge-seeking Hanus crawled into the tower and, reaching into the clock’s movement, pulled out a gear, instantly damaging his creation. Right before dying from the wounds inflicted by the moving gears, Hanus cursed the instrument so anyone who tried to repair it would go mad and die.
A hundred years passed and the clock remained broken until someone found the essential part of the astronomical clock lying by Hanus’ grave.
The clock was then fixed but, as the story goes, because of the curse the fixer went insane.
Also spotted near Old Town Square on Husova Street (roughly a six-minute walk), is a disturbing sculpture by David Cerny of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Freud is depicted hanging from a pole, pondering whether or not he should plummet to his death. Indeed, Freud’s life ended in suicide when he had his doctor administer large doses of morphine after Freud began suffering from painful mouth cancer. Many passersby have mistaken this statue for a real person attempting to commit suicide and have even called the police.
3 PM : Old Jewish Cemetery
Široká, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město
With its earliest tombs dating back to 1439, the Old Jewish Cemetery (located in the Jewish Quarter) is one of the oldest surviving Jewish burial sites in Europe. Admission into the cemetery costs 330 CZK and also includes access to several synagogues in the area.
The 12,000 headstones located here are crumbling, clustered together, leaning in every direction, and covered in ivy. Prague Jews had only a limited space to bury their dead, so when that space ran out, they simply stacked their dead one on top of another. The deceased were buried in as many as 12 layers, making the wall supporting the cemetery over 10 feet high. As you stand on the cemetery’s uneven soil, think about the 100,000 decaying bodies buried beneath your feet.
5 PM : Basilica of St. James
Malá Štupartská 6, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město
Make your way out of the Jewish Quarter and down Malá Štupartská street. To your right you will see the baroque style Basilica of St. James. As soon as you enter the church, look up and to the right. See the black withered object hanging from a chain? That is a mummified arm.
The story goes that a thief tried to steal the jewels off of the statue of the Virgin Mary. As soon as he touched them, the statue came to life and grabbed hold of the thief’s arm. He was discovered the next day by parishioners. They weren’t able to free his arm from the statue and were forced to chop it off.
For more than 400 years, the arm has hung by the entrance of the church to remind visitors the consequences of stealing.
You can also find the tomb of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice inside the basilica. The Count is said to have one of the most beautiful tombs in Bohemia but, unfortunately, a tomb that could have been saved for a later date. The Count was buried alive and, when he woke up from his unconsciousness, he tried to alert people. Bloodcurdling screams rattled throughout the basilica, but it was no use. His suffocated body was found outside of his coffin where he was trapped behind the sealed wall of a doorless vault.
6 PM : Restaurant U Golema
Maiselova 62/8, 110 00 Praha 1-Josefov
Conclude your exciting day eating homemade Czech specialties at Restaurant U Golema, a restaurant devoted to Czech’s most famous monster Golem. Inside you will see a lifesize statue of Golem standing guard over the eating patrons.
The clay beast was originally created to protect the Jews from anti-Semitic attacks. Brought to life by Jewish mystic Rabbi Judah Loew, Golem kept watch over the town and was a servant to the citizens. However, Golem quickly began growing stronger and stronger. Golem learned how to make himself invisible and summon spirits from the dead. He no longer took direction from his master and began destroying the town. He wreaked a bloody havoc, ravaging homes and tearing people limb by limb.
Golem’s body is believed to be kept in the attic of the Old New Synagogue, located on Maiselova street (the same street as the restaurant).
11 PM : Prague Castle Complex, 119 08 Prague 1
When you walk along the pathway to Prague Castle, you are walking in the footsteps of eccentric kings, ruthless invaders, and mystics and alchemists of every stripe. Take a short tram ride up Castle Hill and find yourself where Prague’s elite reside. Much as how trash was disposed of, the Czech people were fans of getting rid of unwanted people by throwing them out the window. This is known as defenestration. However, if falling from great heights didn’t kill you, you were likely to be beaten to death or executed in some other fashion.
As you tour the grandeur of Prague’s castle complex, be sure to notice the tower of Hradčany. This is where Protestant nobles threw Imperial governors out of the window, sparking the 30 Years War.
Another unsettling fixture around the first courtyard of Prague Castle is known as the Matthias Gate, constructed in 1614. Here you will see depictions of the bloody battle of the titans.
Sprinkled throughout the complex are several dungeons, including one in which a betrayed knight was sent to live out his final days. You can also visit a museum that holds the burial cloths of various Czech Kings and Queens. These cloths were obtained after the royalty’s bodies were dug up and undressed, before being reinterred garmentless.
4 PM: Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments
Křižovnické náměstí 194/1, Prague 1
Warning: this museum is not for the faint of stomach. However, if you are curious about the gruesome yet inventive ways alleged lawbreakers were punished during medieval times, this is the place to go. Right next to the Charles Bridge, the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments offers a collection of devices that once caused the sickening screams and prolonged deaths of their victims. Among the displays is the Catalan Garrotte. The unfortunate individual would sit in a specially designed chair with his hands tied behind their back as the executioner screwed an iron wedge into the back of his or her skull.
A Czech specialty known as The Giant Wheel was a popular form of torture during Medieval times. The arms and legs of the victim were weaved through the wheel’s posts, breaking their body into bits.
Explore three levels packed with all kinds of deadly machinery. With extremely detailed explanations accompanying each exhibit, you are sure to have a gruesome time.
7 PM : Ghosts, Legends, and the Dungeon Tour
As the sun sets over the city, embark on the Ghosts, Legends, and the Dungeon Tour. Follow your guide through one of the most haunted cities in Europe and hear tales of betrayal, murder, and bloody revenge. Poltergeists, drowned maids, and headless spirits are all included. As you enter the dungeon, you enter where many years ago unlucky souls found themselves suffering long and excruciatingly painful deaths. Get lost in the eerie legends of the Czech Kingdom, but watch your back because you never know what is waiting for you around the corner.
9 PM : Nightmare Prague Horror Bar
Záhořanského 2007/7, 120 00 Praha 2-Nové Město
Share a drink with your childhood frights at Nightmare Prague Horror Bar. Jason, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger will all be in attendance at this cozy spot. Located just south of Old Town, you can reminisce on old horror films while sipping on specials like Cenobite’s Puzzle Box, Crystal Lake, and Bloody Friday.
11 PM : Kutná Hora
Zámecká, 284 03 Kutná Hora
An hour’s trip outside of Prague to Kutná Hora provides a quick getaway with a dark twist. Unveil the uncanny treasures of this silver mining town, as you find yourself really amongst the dead.
Our first stop to Sedlec Ossuary will have you thinking about what’s on the inside, and I don’t mean a great personality. Human bones, the remains of over 40,000 people to be exact, decorate what has come to be known as the Bone Chapel. In 1511, a half-blind monk began organizing the remains of plague victims and fallen soldiers of the Protestant Hussite Wars into pyramids that reach at least 10 feet in height. Skulls, femurs, vertebrae, and more are arranged to form the Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms, a massive chandelier, and even a monstrance.
These unusual adornments are oddly beautiful. They are the bones of human beings, people who once walked the Earth with hopes and dreams, not much different than you and me. They symbolized the honest equality of people, causing you to think about your own mortality. No one can escape death. At the end of this life, we are all a great big pile of bones.
After peering into the eyeless sockets of human skulls, walk down the street to the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. This 14th century church is home to a few skeletons of its own. Remains of martyred Cistercian monks are on display to the left as you enter the church, and close to the altar are relics of St. Vincent and St. Felix. The attic of the cathedral is open for exploration. If you listen closely you might can hear the echos of the soul of famous Baroque painter Petr Brandl, who is buried on site, as your footsteps creak along the unfinished wooden walkway.
Closer to Kutná Hora’s city center is the Chapel of Corpus Christi. This underground floor from the 15th century is among the few structures preserved from the late Gothic era. The room was once the resting place of hundreds of human bodies.
Prague is the perfect place to indulge in both the beautiful and the terrible. With its real-life horror stories and endless discoveries, it is hard to find a dull moment. Enjoy Prague in a different light, or rather with no light at all.