This is one of the Prague’s top tourist attractions, Golden Lane (Zlatá ulička) at Prague Castle. It is a picturesque narrow alley, lined by tiny, colourfully painted houses.
The cottages were built into the castle fortifications in the 16th century to house Emperor Rudolf II’s 24 marksmen, although only one house, no 13, survives from that period. It’s hard to believe that until the 19th century, outhouses lined the other side of the street, making it even narrower, in some places only two metres wide. By that time, Golden Lane was becoming a slum as artisans took up residence, living cheek by jowl with their animals and neighbours in an extremely cramped environment.
Despite the squalor, the picturesque appearance of Golden Lane was recognised, and care was taken to preserve its character as far back as the early days of Czechoslovakia. Golden continued to be inhabited well into the 20th century, and the most famous resident was writer Franz Kafka, who stayed at no 22 intermittently in 1916-17. In 1951 the last inhabitants were evicted by the Communists, who turned the cottages into a row of souvenir shops.
If you go on a guided tour of Prague Castle you’ll probably hear the different stories concerning the origin of the street’s name. Some claim that it is connected with the goldsmiths who lived here in the 17th century; others say that the gold refers to the alchemists working at Prague Castle, the most infamous of whom was English man Edward Kelley. He was locked up in the White Tower Bílá věž by Rudolf II. for failing to turn metal into gold.
As part of the renovation project, some of the houses serve as a museum of Golden Lane, with an emphasis on historical accuracy, and the remainder will continue to sell souvenirs. Although the cottages are extremely picturesque and cosy, they are very cramped, and you’ll be glad that your Prague apartment is a much more spacious place to live!
Steps at the eastern end of Golden Lane lead to a terrace and the round Daliborka Tower, also a former prison, and connected with a legend that inspired composer Bedřich Smetana’s opera Dalibor.
Golden Lane is the most popular sight of the castle complex and inevitably becomes very crowded with visitors throughout the day. If you want to experience its magic properly, you should visit in the late evening.
During the day, entry to Golden Lane is by admission only. See the Prague Castle website (www.hrad.cz) for details.