The first deck ever made by BabaBarock / Baba Studio was The Tarot of Prague, and after two decades it still holds a place in the hearts of collectors and readers. Unexpectedly, tourists have gone looking to uncover the secrets of the deck by seeking the places used to create the images.
Most of the cards in both the Major and Minor Arcana are composites of several places and building details in the magic city of Prague. These stretch from the obvious suspects such as Charles Bridge and Old Town Square to buildings in working-class neighbourhoods, which have a surprising amount of esoteric details.
The companion book for reading The Tarot of Prague has information about where many of the details can be found, but a map with some pictures will save the brave traveler some time.
While a few antique shop or puppet store displays have changed, the vast bulk of the Czech capital’s décor from Romanesque to Art Deco has remained the same. A few statues have been cleaned, and the colors on the Astronomical Clock have changed – not without controversy. But most landmarks should still be recognizable.
We’ve mapped out the locations for all but the most minor details, organized by the Major Arcana and four suits. The deck has 78 cards, plus some alternate versions in different editions of the deck. Over 180 places used for inspiration have been plotted on the map.
When possible we’ve added pictures of how the sites look in real life – often different than on the cards. The basic images have been manipulated to fit the traditional, mystical meaning of the cards. Statues, for example, may be a head from one source and a torso from another.
The main image on The Magician has the body from a plaque of poet Jan Neruda and the head from above a window on the Municipal House (Obecní dům). The background comes from a highly faded mural in Ungelt. The games table is in the Strahov monastery. The disk on the table is from the House at the Golden Sun in Malá Strana. Most of the Major Arcana cards and Court cards in the suits are similarly elaborate.
The Queen of Pentacles combines a detail from the base of a stature of Emperor Charles IV near the Charles Bridge with part of a Zodiac from the First Czech Mutual insurance company on Spalena Street, designed by architect Osvald Polívka in 1907. The statue by sculptor Arnost J Hähnel dates to 1848, the 500th anniversary of Charles University. The four seated figures at the base are allegories of the school’s original four faculties.
The background is Kanovnická Street. The house on the left was in the film “Amadeus” and on the right is Martinic Palace, which appears in several other cards as well.
One of the more elaborate cards is the Seven of Cups. The main image comes from St Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague Castle. The polychrome figure holds a candle above the tomb of St Jan Nepomucky. Each of the seven cups has a detail from a different building.
The face on the upper right is from a residential building called the House at the Three Turks. The face on the lower left is from the stucco detail on the Klementinum. Other images include one of the towers of Charles Bridge and a crown from a house sign on Karmelitska Street.
One of the first things visitors to Prague do is touch the plaques at the base of the statue of St Jan Nepomucky on Charles Bridge. It is supposed to guarantee that you will return to Prague, though some people say that touching the plaque will grant a wish. The tradition actually only dates to around 1990. It was started by some college students as a prank – but that is a long story. The dog appears on the Ten of Pentacles as a symbol of fidelity.
The other figure can be found in Vyšehrad, part of a group of four legendary couples made by sculptor Josef Václav Myslbek. This pair is Ctirad and Šárka, characters from the Maiden’s War, a tale of a female-led uprising. The background is Our Lady of Angels in the far edge of the Castle neighborhood. You can see some cannon balls (real ones) lodged in the facade.
You can explore what lies behind the rest of the cards in The Tarot of Prague either virtually on the map or by wandering the winding streets of the Czech capital. If you have a copy of The Tarot of Prague, it can be particularly interesting to stop to do readings at some of the spots.
A lot of the locations can be seen for free, while the ones inside Prague Castle, Strahov Monastery, and Vrtbovská Garden require admission. Others like the courtyard of Martinic Palace (Martinický palác) and the interior of the Italian Cultural Center are only open on rare occasions for special events.
The most far-flung spots are at the chateau at Troja to the north, with a detail of the stairs seen on the Queen of Cups and the park at Vyšehrad to the south, which features in four cards in the suit of Pentacles and six other cards. Among residential areas, Holešovice and Vinohrady deserve honorable mentions.