Lost Alchemy Labs of Prague
Secrets & Lore lie behind every turn… now free for all readers!
The medieval city in Prague is a rat’s nest of cobblestones, narrow alleyways, and gothic towers. The streets all seem to loop back on themselves, and each turn reveals some new thing of beauty.
Much of the city is hidden. The best wine bars sit in the inner courtyards of five-hundred-year-old buildings. Fourteenth century basements dug into the bedrock are nothing special here. Glance upwards, and gargoyles scowl down.
On a chilly morning just after New Year’s, I found myself in a small square. There was a coffee shop, an ATM, a few small shops. And, directly across, an arched doorway with a sign blazoned “Speculum Alchemiae Prague.”
Now, I know a tourist trap when I see one. But this felt… different. Curious, I went inside. There were bottles of herbal elixirs for sale, small vials of pyrite (commonly known in the United States as fool’s gold), and reproductions of Medieval maps. The woman behind the counter kindly said the next tour was starting in ten minutes. Well, I’d already come this far.
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She led us down a short hallway at the back of the shop and into a room — an office from the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. The walls were painted with the elemental symbols of the alchemists. Behind us, an enormous bookcase, filled with manuscripts and leather-bound tomes, loomed. This was the original office of the alchemist, our guide explained. Despite the patronage of the Emperor, the Catholic Church had banned the practice of the occult science, and the resident alchemist had worked under cover, with the front room masquerading as a pharmacy.
Then, with a sly smile, the guide crossed the room to the bookcase. She reached out to a carved statue of an owl perched on one of the shelves, and gave it a twist. With a rumble, the bookshelf slid back into the wall, revealing a dark passage, a twisting stairwell down into darkness.
We followed her, breath fogging in the air, down into the alchemist’s lab. The lab — five chambers of blast furnaces, ovens, glass beakers and storerooms — had been cut into the rock beneath the building. In these rooms, the alchemist and his assistants had labored for years, seeking to find the elixir of life and to transform led into gold. A series of tunnels connected the lab to the astronomical clock on Prague’s main square, the market, and even the emperor’s chambers atop the mountain in Prague Castle.
When Ruldoph II died, the alchemists fled the city. This particular individual hid his notes and recipes in a secret chamber behind a carving of Saint George, reasoning that even if the inquisition found the lab, they wouldn’t destroy the image of a saint. On his way out, he had sealed up the staircase and plastered over the painted symbols on the walls.
The lab was forgotten and lay untouched for centuries, until one of the tunnels caved in during a construction project in 2010. Archaeologists followed the tunnel until they eventually reached the lab and rediscovered its secrets. Textual clues indicate that there were at least eight such labs operating in Prague during the reign of Rudolph II.
To date, only this one has been found. The others? Undiscovered. Their secrets and discoveries?
Lost to time.
These sorts of mysteries, lost accounts, and ancient secrets, exist everywhere in the world. And the world of the Amal Empire is full of them, too! We began publishing short snippets of lore, fragments of lost texts, and secret correspondences in September of last year.
Now, we’re excited to announce that, although most of our long-form stories are exclusively available to paying subscribers (please support us!), these Secrets of Amal are now available to all readers!
A few of our favorites include:
We publish a new Secrets and Lore post every Wednesday, and you can read them all here.
Have you ever discovered a secret lost to time? Perhaps a ruin, a missing text, or a treasure in plain sight?
A special thank-you to, which featured us in its Ye Olde Year in Review! We’re big fans of Royal Scrivener Jan Lionsnest’s work, so giveth the publication a read!
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