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Prague’s Golden Lane: Czech Identity Through The Ages
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Prague’s Golden Lane: Czech Identity Through The Ages

Picture of Kriti Bajaj
Updated: 9 February 2017
Recently renovated, Prague’s Golden Lane offers an enlightening journey through the city’s history. Many of the houses in the lane have been transformed into captivating exhibitions, celebrating figures such as Josef Kazda, while other displays exude the atmosphere of years long gone. Kriti Bajaj investigates the Golden Lane, revealing what lies behind these historic doors.

Located in the Prague Castle complex, this quaint lane traces its origins back to the 16th century. It is lined with rows of picturesque, colorful houses on either side, which were occupied until the 1950s, and then used mostly as souvenir shops. Though opinions about this narrow cobbled lane vary, with some considering it charming while others deeming it a tourist trap, the Golden Lane (or Zlatá ulička, as it is locally known) has undergone quite a reconstruction.

Prague Golden Lane
© Kriti Bajaj | Prague, Golden Lane

After the renovation of the site in 2010-2011 to solve drainage problems, the interiors of the houses were redone to reflect and document the lane’s long heritage. Detailed information is now provided in nine of the 16 houses which have been recreated as exhibitions – protected by glass partitions – to mimic those of their former inhabitants. The project was undertaken by Barrandov Studios and curated by film historian Pavel Jiras. The remaining seven houses sell souvenirs and local crafts.

The upper floor of the houses has been transformed into a medieval armory, featuring a crossbow that visitors can try out, and period costume displays. The western end of the lane leads to the tower Daliborka, a dungeon which used to be a prison.

Goldsmiths and Alchemy

The Golden Lane is located near the eastern end of the castle and was created after the castle acquired a new outer wall. It is thought to have been meant for castle servants and marksmen (it was then known as Archery Lane). Later, some goldsmiths and metal beaters lived and worked there, leading to it being renamed Zlatnická ulička (Goldsmith’s Lane) in the 16th century, eventually modified to its current form. The goldsmiths of the lane made small and humble items like chains, decorations for garments, cutlery, rosaries and seals. It has also been hinted that the name may have been associated with alchemists who resided here, but whether this is fact or legend remains unclear.

House number 15 in the lane represents a goldsmith’s ‘workshop and dwelling’ from the Renaissance, furnished with a desk (with an apron below it to catch any stray gold shavings), various glittering ornaments and a period costume, flasks and tools for the craft, and a bird cage.

From the Renaissance to the 1950s

The houses in the lane today are a hybrid of representations ranging from the Renaissance through the 1950s. The only house to retain its Renaissance appearance is house number 20, which has a frame upper floor. House number 13 emulates the ‘residence of the red artilleryman’, one of 24 guards who defended the fortifications of the castle during the late Renaissance. The interior is simple, with a sleeping loft and a striking red guard’s uniform standing in a corner. There is also a taproom/tavern from the late Renaissance at house number 16, a successful business in its time. Taverns are said to have hosted a lively crowd, from peddlers to musicians, and there were quite a few taverns and inns in the city.

The late Baroque period is represented by house number 27 – that of a herbalist. Herbalists and folk healers treated wounds and eased suffering, and their clientèle were often nobles. Their houses resembled an apothecary, with flowers, jars of nectar, opiates, powders, seeds, spices and even dried frogs, octopus bones and lards of various animals.

Moving on to the 20th century, house numbers 14, 24 and 26 are from the First Republic. The former belonged to the psychic Madame de Thebes (Matylda Průšová), who lost her son in the First World War. She was extremely sought after for her predictions, which later resulted in her being arrested and tortured to death by the Gestapo for predicting the downfall of the Third Reich. The cosy house has objects like tarot cards, a skull, and a bookshelf of books on horoscopes and astrology.

House number 24 belonged to Mrs. Magdalena, an inhabitant who, like many others in the lane, capitalized on its quaintness and historical popularity by redecorating it in an old-fashioned manner and charging visitors for a tour, while herself living elsewhere in the city. House number 26 is furnished to imitate that of a seamstress, described on the signboard as ‘a sought after profession among the Castle’s servants’. In 1953, all the houses in the lane were bought by the president of the Republic and have not been inhabited since then.

Kafka and Kazda: Famous Inhabitants

Writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) lived here in house number 22 – his sister’s home – from 1916 to 1917. The only sign of his occupation, however, is a plaque with his name outside the house, and a poster of him on the inner door. A slight disappointment for literary fans, the house has been transformed into a souvenir shop.

However, house no. 12 – associated with film historian and collector Josef Kazda – perhaps makes up for this. Kazda is known for having preserved many films and documentaries during the Second World War that were ordered to be disposed. House no. 12 became a warehouse for these and the Art Society met here between 1948 and 1952 for lectures, screenings and discussion. The house today contains many film posters, stacks of film reels at the top of the staircase and a screening room where films are still screened. The lane was also home to Nobel Prize winning writer and poet Jaroslav Seifert for some time in the 1930s.

Entry to the Golden Lane is through a ticket for the castle complex; both the short- and long-visit tickets include entry to the lane.