Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The treasure of the Clementinum

View of the Castle from the Clementinum
There was a heavy knock at the door. Pavel was kicked out of bed by his wife, who whispered loudly to answer the door and it better not be Vasek coming home from the hospudka again! Pavel muttered something about his wife as he stumbled through the kitchen and opened the door. There in the hallway were two men in heavy monks’ robes, the hoods up so their faces were only deep shadows. Pavel was somewhat surprised and rubbed his eyes a bit before making out a groggy “Hello?”

“Pavel Krumlov?” one of the men asked.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

The other man was holding a small, cloth pouch, made from the same material as the heavy robes. He held it out for him to take. Pavel took it—it was heavy and clinked. Gold. At least as much that he needed to pay back that lender he owed.

“What’s this?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

“We have more.”

“Do you?”

“We have a job for you.”

Pavel naturally accepted the job, as his masonry business had gone somewhat downhill. The men refused to say where the job was, but rather took his wrist and led him into the hall, down the stairs, and into the street. “You’ll have to wear this,” said one of the men, holding a blindfold to him. After a short sigh, he put on the blindfold and they led him around the streets of Prague, over the river, in circles around buildings, back over the river, in circles, around this building, that building, up a hill, down a hill. He was completely lost by the time that he heard a door open and he was led down some steps into a cellar. From the cellar, there was a dark passage that led to chest after chest after chest. Jewels and glittering things were on the ground, the light from their torch picked up and scattered, making the floor itself almost look like a precious object.

“What is this?” asked Pavel.

“You will make a wall here, and it will appear as if the wall was always here. Do you understand?” one monk said. “The materials are all here. There are bricks, mortar, spades. If you need anything, you tell one of us and we will get it for you. When you're done, we'll take you back a different way.”

Pavel understood. This treasure was to be hidden. One monk remained behind to watch Pavel as he worked through the night. He slept on a cot through the day. When he woke, there was a different monk and he kept working and working until his wall was perfected.

When he came home, with several more sacks of gold, he told his wife what had happened. “Do you think you can find the place?” his wife asked. They searched again and were never able to realize that his commission was from the Jesuits of the Clementinum

A bit of history

In 1773, the Empress Maria Theresa told the Jesuits to pack their bags and go—thinking this was only a temporary departure, as they had a perfectly functional relationship with Charles’ University, they had allegedly decided to store many of their treasures in a secret room somewhere on the campus. Maria Theresa had designs for her own functions though and the property was never returned to the religious order. Which means there’s still a room full of gold somewhere in the Clementinum. 

Inside the Observatory tower with bookshelf/ladder

The building standing in the heart of the Prague Old Town was built by the Dominicans in 1556 and reconstructed and developed into a full-scale university by the Jesuits in 1653. The complex spans over 2 hectares, making it one of the largest building complexes in Europe. It was used by several famous astronomers, notably Tyco Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Brahe was key in keeping most of the scientific community of the time—meaning the Jesuits—against the heliocentric theory, while Kepler would advance the early Copernican ideas and correct them, adjusting the planetary orbits into off-center ellipses, which was the main failure of Copernicus. Then he also wrote several books expounding how Christianity and the Bible allowed for a heliocentric theory, and he never made the famous Galilean mistake of calling the pope an idiot in any of his tomes. Pope Urban VIII at the time interestingly supported the heliocentric theory, but didn’t support being called an idiot. And so the Inquisition goes its way.

The King's Road

The Clementinum now stands alongside the “King’s Road”, the path of coronation for the old Bohemian Kings, and is thus on the direct route to the Charles’ Bridge from Old Town Square. It works still as part of Charles’ University, containing an immense library, and it also functions as a museum—preserving the library wing where Kepler and Brahe once worked, in the form that they had left it. You can tour the library and observatory tower and you can sign up for the tours in the inner courtyard. Don’t worry, it’s okay to walk around the courtyards, even though guards might be eyeing you while you do so. 

View from the Clementinum
The tour lasts for about 30 minutes, is sold out quickly, and doesn’t really take reservations, which means you need to show up about 30 minutes before the tour and buy your tickets then. The price is a whopping 220 crowns, but the view from the top and the fact that you are looking into the library where Kepler was working certainly makes it worth it, especially if you’re only in Prague once.

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