One of my favorite experiences in Prague was something totally unplanned, totally unexpected and almost didn’t happen. My friend, Alex, and I decided to walk to the top of Petrin, a hill in the center of Prague that sits about 430 feet above the river and offers great views of the city. Also, it is home to the Petrin Lookout Tower, which was inspired by the Eiffel Tower after members of the Club of Czech Tourists visited the world exposition in Paris in 1889.
Despite it being a cold, dark night, we opted to walk to the top versus taking the train. Along the paved trail up the hill, we came upon a small building with some interesting-looking sculptures of mythical creatures around the outside of it. As we approached the building, a middle-aged gentleman with a brimmed hat stepped out of the shadows of the doorway to the building and started speaking to us in Czech. Once discovering we didn’t speak Czech, he pulled out a book with photos and asked us if we would like to take a tour of the “Magical Cavern.” Peeking inside the doorway as he spoke to us, I noticed a small, spiral stairway that went both up and down. The place seemed a little shady, as did the cloaked gentleman who positioned himself so that we were between him and the doorway. We politely stated that we might stop on our way back down and continued to walk up the hill, while discussing how odd the place seemed.
Once we reached the top of the hill and looked around at the maze of mirrors, observatory, lookout tower, hunger wall and other points of interest, the topic of the Magical Cavern came up once again. Our curious nature took over and we decided to Google it to see what we could find. The majority of the reviews we found on Trip Advisor all alluded to the same thing; people stumbled into the place not knowing what to expect, and all of them left without a full grasp of what they had experienced. One of my favorite reviews was, “Have you ever come out of somewhere and really tried to understand what has just happened. If so, this is the attraction for you.”
This was enough to sell us both, and intrigue overtook apprehension. We made our way back down the hill, all the while negotiating our approach. I suggested we use the buddy system, where one of us will go in and check out the place while the other stays outside. This way, in the event it was a trap, the person outside could go for help and tell the deceased person’s family what happened. My idea was shot down, and Alex said she would only go in together.
Upon arriving back at the doorway of the Magical Cavern, I reluctantly agreed that we’d go in together and we each paid our entry fee of 70 Kč (just over $3 US). With YOLO (you only live once) as our motto, it was now time to enter, and I was a bit freaked out, to say the least. This felt like a scene out of a scary movie about foreigners getting kidnapped in a sketchy art gallery, and I honestly wasn’t sure if we were both coming back out with our kidneys! On top of that, I don’t like tight spaces and would hate to be stuck in some creepy dude’s basement.
We were instructed to go down the stairs to the basement first, and then back up the stairs to the attic. Being the gentleman that I am, I let Alex go down the stairs first (ladies first!). Once at the bottom, I let her explore the room while I stayed near the stairs, peering up the whole time, waiting to see if someone was going to come down them with bad intentions. I had a quick peek around the room and then booked it upstairs to the attic. While in the attic, I finally took out my camera to snap a few pics of the place, both for myself and to provide the cops with information, if necessary. While taking the pics, I finally calmed down a little and started to appreciate the surroundings. We decided to go back downstairs and have a more in-depth look at the place.
Upon arriving back downstairs with a clear mind, I entered a room unlike anything I’d ever seen before. There were paintings everywhere, all with a fantasy art theme, ranging from unicorns and fairies to harp-playing mythical creatures and topless women; lots of topless women! Even more impressive than the art was the transformation of the walls. The artist had painted each and every wall to resemble a cave, complete with man-made stalactites hanging from the ceiling that he created with plaster and paint. In addition, there was some of the most beautiful music playing that seemed to surround us as we made our way through the sensory smorgasbord. If you’ve never heard “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Loreena McKennitt, you should definitely check it out!
Drinks also were included in the entry fee (juices, hot wine, water, etc.), but we elected not to drink them as they weren’t sealed and I was quite certain they were laced with acid or LSD, in order to help one fully appreciate the artwork featured in the room. Also, I didn’t want to start tripping and end up sleeping on one of the two weathered and ancient sofas that were next to the drink table. Having satisfied our curiosity, we made our way back outside.
When we arrived home, I researched the Magical Cavern and discovered that it is the dream child of a Czech artist who goes by the name of Reon Argondian. Born in Prague as Jan Gardener in July 21, 1948, Reon learned his renaissance painting technique as a restorer of old paintings in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was during this time in his early twenties that he adopted the name and spirit of Reon, and his dream of Argondie (basically, a place like the Magical Cavern) began. From there he traveled around Europe and painted, often in isolation, perfecting his vision for his art. Eventually, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Reon moved back to Prague and built the Magical Cavern, where he lives, paints and displays his creations. What I found most interesting about his art, aside from the subject matter, is the amount of time it takes to create. Reon often paints in layers, each of which can take anywhere from two to six months to dry. A good portion of his paintings can remain unfinished for about a year in the studio.
All in all, it was an awesome experience. The combination of spontaneity, intrigue, apprehension, artistic expression, adventure and the unknown made it the highlight of our time in Prague. And I appreciate Reon for having a vision and working to make it a reality. It was truly like walking into a land where time and the everyday distractions and problems of the world didn’t exist. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend you check it out!
You can see more pictures here and take a virtual tour with the video below, shot by Lili Strobl.