Prague is famous for a lot of things – red roofs, hundreds of spires, pebble stone streets, and famous Czech beer. If you continue with the list, you will also reach house signs. They are on postcards and in guidebooks, but not many visitors of Prague actually know what the small paintings, symbols, or statues above the entrance doors of old houses could be.

Prague inhabitants started to decorate their houses with house signs around the second half of 14th century. Quickly, every more expensive house had a house sign. The estimation is that in 14th century there were 230 house signs in the city and close to 900 in the 18th century. Today you can find just a little over 200 house signs in Prague; 200 reasons to keep your eyes open on your strolls through Old Town, New Town, Lesser Town and Castle district. Ok, so a few pretty pictures, but what is the big deal? There are two main reasons. One is an orientation. If google maps existed in 15th century we could not orient ourselves through street names and house numbers because these forms of orientation did not exist just yet. It was not until the reign of Maria Theresa (the famous Habsburg empress) that numbering houses became a law in 1770. Until then, you would rely on the name of houses often based of the house signs. House signs were also a type of marketing, and at the time when not everyone could read. The house sign told important information about the owner of the house's occupation, or important characteristics. Some house signs are also connected to some important event or legends.

The best street to easily explore the house signs is the Nerudova street (the most famous pedestrian path to Prague Castle). In Nerudova streets there are 20 houses with house signs!

Houses which you should not miss:

  • At the Black Eagle, N.2 (pharmacy)

  • Three Red Deer, N.4

  • Red Eagle, N. 6

  • Three Little Fiddles, N. 12 (house of three generations of violin makers. The legend says that during full moon you can still hear the mysterious tones of violins.)

  • At the Golden Chalice, N. 16 (sign of the goldsmith´s craft. Goldsmith lived there in 17th century.)

  • The Donkey by a Crib, N. 25 (house sign of nativity)

  • At the Golden Lion, N. 32 (contains interior of a Baroque pharmacy which has been preserved – now museum of pharmacy there)

  • At the Golden Horseshoe, N. 34 (Baroque painting of St. Wenceslas with a real horseshoe fastened to the painted hoof of the horse)

  • At the Red Lion, N.41 (Red lion holding a golden cup in his paw. Petr Brandl, a famous Czech painter, lived there. His work you can see at Church of St Margaret, or Church of St James.

  • The Green Lobster, N.43

  • At the Three Black Eagles, N.44 (A legend about greedy old woman is connected to this house. She did not want anyone to inherit any of her possessions and tried to burn the house down before her death. Luckily, she did not do much damage to the house. Today, people who live there can hear her sometimes during the night as she walks through the house and checks her possession.)

  • At the Two Suns, N. 47 (The famous Czech writer Jan Neruda lived there between 1847 – 1857, who wrote many short stories about the Lesser Town. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet-diplomat, liked the work of Jan Neruda and took his last name for his. The street is, of course, named after him.)

  • The White Swan, N. 49

  • At the Golden Star, N.2  

Could you find them all?

Pictures are curtesy of Praga-Magica