Don’t let Prague’s dazzling bridges and charming cobblestone paths fool you—this city has a dark side. Often labeled one of the most haunted places in Europe, Prague was the site of three now-famous defenestrations, and a known meeting place for astrologers and alchemists in the 16th and 17th centuries (more on that later). The city is crawling with ghostly sights and unsolved mysteries both rumored and historically documented, if you know where to look.
Thankfully, we did the work for you. Just in time for Halloween, here are six of Prague’s most skin-crawling haunts, from a dark magic worshipping site to a church constructed entirely of human bones. Find the full list below, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The Hanging Arm
Kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho (Church of Saint James the Greater)
Unlike many of Prague’s haunts, the scariest part about Old Town’s baroque church of St. James the Greater (or Kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho) isn’t hidden. In fact, it’s in plain sight. Make an immediate right upon entrance, and you’ll come face-to-face with a 400-year-old mummified arm dangling by a meat hook. Yes, you read that right.
Rumor has it that the mangled forearm belongs to a thief who tried to steal jewels from the church’s statue of the Virgin Mary. But when Mary grabbed the thief’s arm and wouldn’t let go, a group of nearby parishioners were forced to amputate. As the legend goes, the blackened arm was hung by a meat hook (allegedly, many of the parishioners also belonged to a nearby butcher’s guild), and has remained as a warning ever since.
The horrors don’t end there. The church is also home to the tomb of Count Vratislav of Mitrovice, who was accidentally buried alive in the 1700s. The story goes that the Count’s wails and moans were mistaken for those of ghosts. Soon, the Count became a ghost himself.
A Deal with the Devil
Nowadays, the Faust House of Charles Square belongs to Charles University’s medicine department. But the centuries-old building has a mysterious history tracing back to the legendary Dr. Johannes Faustus, an alchemist and black magic practitioner rumored to have disappeared in the house after making a deal with the devil.
Though the structure is named for Faust—who may or may not have existed—it’s been home to a number of mysterious and otherwise eccentric figures. The list includes famed alchemists Eduard Kelly and Ferdinand Antonin Mladota of Solopysky, along with Karl Jaenig, a 19th-century inhabitant who maintained a functional gallows and slept in a coffin.
If that’s not enough to give you chills, you might also hear the area referred to as Na Morani. In medieval times, the site is said to have been used to make sacrifices to the dark goddess Morana.
The Church of Bones
Sedlec Ossuary at Kutná Hora
If you’re (somehow) not satisfied by Prague’s own haunted past, venture out to Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. Here you’ll find a chapel also known as the Bone Church—and it’s not hard to see why. The macabre structure is estimated to hold the remains of 40 thousand people, many of whom died during the Black Death of the 14th century and Hussite Wars of the early 15th century.
After the abbot of the Sedlec Monastery sprinkled holy soil from Jerusalem across the Sedlec cemetery in 1278, it became one of the most desirable burial sites in Bohemia. But when the site began to overflow with bodies, the local woodcarver František Rint was tasked with arranging the tens of thousands of bones. The final product includes four candelabras, a family crest, six pyramids, and a chandelier, all made entirely of bleached, defleshed human bones.
Gateway to Hell
Thought to be one of the most haunted locations in the world is the Houska Castle, isolated in the forests north of Prague. Lacking fortification, water, a kitchen, and access to trade routes, the existence of this early gothic castle defies military or political logic.
It is said that Houska was built to close the “Gateway to Hell.” Apparently, demonic activity had been disturbing the region for some time and a giant bottomless pit was thought to be the source. Naturally, Bohemian officials erected a castle and chapel over it to seal the gate. This was not before they lowered prisoners into the pit as punishment, and pulled them out to find they had aged 30 years. Houska is also the site of Nazi occult dabbling in the 1930’s. It is unclear what went on here, but several Nazi skeletons were discovered at the site many years later.
In terms of ghosts, Houska has them all, ranging from a bullfrog/human creature, a headless horse, and an old woman. It is also believed that the site contains nonhuman remains of demonic beasts who escaped the pit. This isolated castle is a perfect day trip outside of Prague. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you’re sure to get spooked by the Silence-of-the Lambs-style pit and the eerie pointlessness of the castle.
From the Window…
This 9th-century castle complex located in northern Prague is haunted by more than just the Czechs’ unfulfilled expectations for the current president. In fact, it is widely considered the origin of defenestration, a fancy term for the act of ousting a leader by throwing him out of the window. Prague’s first defenestration occurred in the town hall in 1419. But the most notable case occurred at the Prague Castle in 1618, when two imperial governors and their secretary were thrown from a window, sparking the Thirty Years War.
The Prague Castle has also been a hub of leadership through old Bohemian rule, the Habsburg dynasty and into modern presidencies. Walking through the grounds, visitors can feel the weight of history on their backs.
A Basket of Heads
The stunning Charles Bridge may be one of Prague’s top tourist attractions today, but it has a dark past. After the 27 leaders of the anti-Habsburg revolt were executed in June of 1621, 12 of their severed heads were suspended in iron baskets from the towers at each end of the Charles Bridge. The heads remained there for over a decade, according to historical engravings of the event.
That’s not the only morbid link in the bridge’s history. Czech martyr St. John of Nepomuk was thrown off the bridge in the 14th century after he refused to divulge to King Wenceslas IV the queen’s confessional secrets. But even that horror comes with a silver lining—touching the plaque commemorating the event on the bridge is said to bring good luck.
BY TATIANA CIRISANO & SAM SPENGLER