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Prague's Golden Lane
One narrow street in Prague but over 500 years of history!
Deep within Hradcany, the area known as Prague Castle, and almost hidden beneath the castle's massive outer walls lies a narrow street of crooked, colourful little houses. This is Prague's Golden Lane, once the home of 16th century archers and riflemen, now a magnet for modern tourists. Today the houses are a mix of shops selling souvenirs and a living museum to the past and former residents. It is a 'must visit' for visitors to Prague!
Here is a brief history of Golden Lane, a few of the residents and a description of some of the houses.
Prague's Hradcany (castle) district
Visiting Hradcany, (Prague Castle) and Golden Lane
Golden Lane lies within the Prague Castle complex and the castle's opening hours are as follows:
April-October 9.00am to 6.00pm
November-March 9.00am to 4.00pm (closed Christmas Eve)
There are various tours and exhibitions with typical admission charges of 350czk for the long tour and 250czk for the short tour. Concessions are available.
Needless to say there is much to see once inside the Castle, and Golden Lane is but one part. The guide books recommend a tour to take in the most popular sights will be 2-4 hours, though most tickets are valid for 2 days allowing visitors the freedom to come and go.
Golden Lane - In and out the housesClick thumbnail to view full-size
History of Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka)
The first houses were built of wood on the site of a former moat when the outer castle walls were extended and rebuilt in the 1500s . The original street was only 3 feet (1 metre) wide and is thought to have comprised 18 houses on both sides used as dwellings for Royal servants. By 1597 further rebuilding led to the houses being rebuilt to accommodate the Royal Archers of King Rudolph II's castle guard and the street known as Archery Lane.
During the 17th century the lane was inhabited by goldsmiths and renamed Golden Lane, despite legend suggesting it was the home of alchemists trying to turn metal into gold.
By the turn of the 19th century the street had become an unhygienic slum with only one or possibly two toilets serving all the houses, no running water and cooking often done on open fires. Subsequently one side of the street was declared unfit for habitation and demolished leaving the 11 houses there today. In fact it has been suggested that is where the origins of the name 'Golden Lane' derive!
In the early 20th century houses were renovated and improved and became popular as residences for Prague's artists and writers, including the Nobel prize winner and poet Jaroslav Seifert and Franz Kafka. Eventually the street was 'nationalised' by the Communist regime in the 1950s, the tenants evicted and the houses restored and brightly painted to the 'Golden lane' of today.
This was the house where Franz Kafka lived with his sister Ottla in 1916/17 and wrote some of the short stories in his book "A Country Doctor". Living in Golden Lane was possibly Kafka's inspiration for his later book "The Castle". No22 is now a bookshop devoted to Kafka's works.
The house of the 'fortune teller' and mystic Madame de Thebes, real name Matylda Prusova. She lived there with her son who went to war and was reported 'missing in action' in 1914. Every day thereafter sher continued to set a place at table awaiting his return. Matylda continued to gaze into her crystal ball and tell the people of Prague their fortunes from her cards and make her predictions. Unfortunately for her during the years of the German occupation she foretold of the fall of the Third Reich and of the death of Hitler and was arrested and died at the hands of the Gestapo.
No. 12, near to the 15th century Daliborka Tower, was home of amateur cinematographer and film historian Josef Kazda. The front room is a small cinema and old black and white films show Prague in the early years of the 20th century. Spools and canisters of film are stacked up the narrow staircase and film posters adorn the walls.
About the author
Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.
Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.
His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.
Have you visited Prague or Golden Lane?
© 2011 Antony J Waller