The path to hell is not always paved with good intentions… Sometimes, it is “paved” by skulls and skeletons, volcanic ash, or even modern-day tourists. The devil can come in many forms, apparently. Many of the world’s places that have been or are currently believed to be entrances to hell are rooted in folklore, mythology, history, and religion. Some tales exist “just because”, so to speak, meaning people are creeped out and a superstition forms.
But despite the differences, a few consistencies remain: for the most part, these “gates” to hell are naturally occurring places within the earth, like caves, rivers, and volcanoes. The others are man-made, proving that pretty much anything, with the right combination of the aforementioned history, religion, and folklore, could be seen as sinister. The mystery is figuring out which locations, if any, are truly the doorway to what we all fear: true evil. The Underworld. The devil. Hell. Hades. Satan.
Call it what you will, but the idea is terrifying. Throughout history, different cultures and religions spanning centuries and even millennia, have had places they thought of as the portal to the underworld. Read on to see some of the most well-known (and a few lesser known), places on our planet that someone, at some time, feared was closer to hell than any other place on earth, and why exactly they thought so. These 17 secret entrances to the supposed fiery resting place touch all four corners of the globe. So no matter where you are, you too can visit hell.
17. Seven Gates of Hell, Pennsylvania
Let’s begin with an obvious choice, shall we? Not only is it obvious because of its name, but it also looks kind of eerie. I could easily see it being an entrance to the underworld. Located in York County, Pennsylvania, there are two legends that say there are seven gates of hell. Both legends agree that there are seven gates to hell in a wooded area and that anyone who passes through all seven will go straight down to meet Hades himself.
Hellam Township, where the gates can be found in the woods, was founded in 1793. Legend has it that an old insane asylum burnt down there, and the crazies escaped. Some were trapped inside these gates, never to be seen again. They haunt the gates to this day. The story also says that no one has ever been through the fifth gate and returned to tell about it. I don’t know about you, but these “gates of hell” are a little too close for comfort, as someone who lives in a state that borders Pennsylvania. Creepy!
16. Lake Avernus, Italy
It was the Romans who first considered this picturesque lake in the Campania region of southern Italy an entrance to hell. It is a circular volcanic crater lake near Naples, whose name, Avernus, was synonymous to Roman writers with the underworld. Lake Avernus appeared in the literary works Fabulae, Aeneid, The Odyssey, and Dante’s Inferno, all as the portal to the underworld. Also known as the Devil’s Lair, Avernus was so named because of its literal meaning, “without birds.” It is thought that the smell of brimstone rising from the lake was so poisonous that birds would not fly over it. There is a cave under the lake that was supposedly the actual entrance to the underworld. Now, this beautiful spot immortalized by Homer and Virgil is home to lake-dwellers and was raided in 2010 during a search for the Italian mafia. It sounds like a happening place, if you ask me!
15. Mount Osore, Japan
In the center of the remote Shimokita Peninsula in the northeastern cape of the Japanese island of Honshu, lies a caldera volcano called Mount Osore. It last erupted in 1787, but the locals still call it the “burning mountain.” It is also, perhaps fittingly, thought of as an entrance to hell. Mount Osore literally means “Mount Fear” in Japanese, and the entrance to the underworld is marked by a small brook that neighbors the Sanzu River. This river is thought to be the boundary between the realms of the living and the dead, according to Buddhist belief. They also believe that based on how one lives their life, their soul’s journey across this boundary will be anywhere from easy to difficult, from crossing a bridge to wading through snake-infested waters. The charred landscape, bubbling pits, and sulfur fumes around Mount Osore lend to its image of being an entrance to hell.
14. The Ploutonion, Turkey
With its rich mythology, active geology, and many volcanoes, the Mediterranean boasts many places thought to have been portals to hell. The striking modern-day tourist hotspot called Pamukkale in Turkey boasts an ancient Greco-Roman temple called the Ploutonion. It was built over a cave and underground thermal area. Above ground, the area is known for its other-worldly landscape of hot springs and waterfalls, but once it was believed to be something much more ominous. The ancient Greek geographer Strabo says of the cave below the temple, “it is an opening of sufficient size to admit a man, but there is a descent to a great depth … [The] space is filled with a cloudy and dark vapor, so dense that the bottom can scarcely be discerned … Animals which enter … die instantly. Even bulls, when brought within it, fall down and are taken out dead. We have ourselves thrown in sparrows, which immediately fell down lifeless.”
13. Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan
It goes by many names: the Darvaza Crater, the Crater of Fire, the Gate to Hell, and the Door to Hell. But whatever you call it, this natural gas crater has been burning continuously since 1971 when it was formerly a natural gas field that then collapsed. Scientists set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas. They thought it would die out within a week, but it has been burning for 45 years. Located in Derweze, Turkmenistan in the middle of the Karakum Desert, it is a vast field of fire, boiling mud, and orange flames spanning 230 feet. It has been dubbed the “creepiest place on planet Earth” and attracts thousands of tourists each year. The Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat is only 160 miles to the south, and one tourist from there named Gozel Yazkulieva said of the fiery pit, “It takes your breath away. You immediately think of your sins and feel like praying.”
12. Houska Castle, Czech Republic
No, it is not a palace for Teen Mom 2 queen, Chelsea Houska. Rather, it is a castle north of the Czech capital of Prague, and it was built over a suspected entrance to hell. It was constructed in the 13th century on a limestone cliff surrounded by swamps and dense forest, and was fortified on the inside, as if to keep something in and not out. This is perhaps because there is a strange hole in the top of the cliff that locals said half-animal, half-human creatures flew out of at night- that’s the hole it was built over. They tried to fill the hole with stones, but to no avail because it seemed never-ending, a true bottomless pit.
In 1639, a Swedish commander, black magician, and alchemist practiced there. There are even rumors that the Nazis were involved in secret Occult studies at Houska Castle, since for some unknown reason they were stationed there during WWII. There are several more disturbing legends, stories, and accounts of things that have gone on at this castle, including the belief that it was built to use in the aid of time-travel and teleportation. Incidentally, the castle’s chapel was dedicated to the Archangel Michael, who will lead God’s forces against the demons of hell.
11. The Mayan Cenotes, Mexico
There is a network of underground rivers, caves, roads, and temples beneath the Yucatan Peninsula that a Mexican archaeologist says may be the place where the Maya tried to depict the entrance to hell. The Maya believed that the journey to the underworld, which they called Xibalba, included rivers of blood and chambers of sharp knives, bats, and jaguars. They regarded caves as sacred, and these six sinkhole caves in particular (known as cenotes) were used for worship and as burial grounds for sacrificed humans.
Mexican archaeologist Guillermo de Anda, who used long-forgotten writings from the Spanish Inquisition to study the area, says, “There are a number of elements that make us think that this road is a representation of the journey to Xibalba. We think it is no coincidence that the road which comes out of the crossroads leads to the west.” The west is the direction described as the way to the afterlife.
10. St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Ireland
There is a gateway to hell on a little island in the middle of a lake called Lough Derg in Ireland. Over the portal to the underworld is a monastery, St. Patrick’s Purgatory. According to legend, Jesus showed St. Patrick a cave, where he received visions of hell and was then able to prove the Christian afterlife to the dubious Irish pagans, who had said they would not convert without proof (convenient, eh?).
The monastery was built in the fifth century, but now tourists are generally not allowed on Station Island. However, there is an annual pilgrimage (the “toughest in the Christian world,” it has been said) to take a three-day sojourn, where they fast, are sleep-deprived, and pray 280 times at each of nine different sites while standing barefoot on purposely-sharpened rocks in freezing temperatures. Thousands of devout Christians make it each year to this Ironman of Christian pilgrimages. It sounds like communal suffering at its finest. In any case, the story goes that St. Patrick witnessed the tortures of eternal damnation way back when. Whether people find God or the devil is not really known, though. Care to venture there on a super-fun pilgrimage to find out?
9. Fengdu Ghost City, China
There is a place called Fengdu Ghost City in China that lies on the Yangtze River south of the large city of Chongqing. This place, on the Ming Mountain, is rife with buildings, statues, Chinese mythology, and Buddhist inspiration that represent the underworld. According to folklore, souls must pass through three tests before moving onto the next life, and it is here in Ghost City where tourists from China and all over the world come to learn about the afterlife and ghost culture. In fact, the Chinese believe the devil lives in Fengu, and that the souls of the evil will come here to pass into the afterlife.
Interestingly, the Chinese have a somewhat similar idea of hell as does the western world, and even though much of the 2,000-year-old Ghost City has been under water since the construction of the famous Three Gorges Dam, a hill and dozens of temples remain. This includes the area just above the Door to Hell. It is reachable now by boat, and visitors can walk the bridges, face the demons that guard the entrance into the underworld, and view dioramas of hell, as well as the largest-ever statue carved into a rock, that of the Ghost King.
8. The Gates of Guinee, Louisiana
There has always been something a little eerie to me about New Orleans, what with its creepy above-ground cemeteries, and now especially since I have learned about the Gates of Guinee. The teachings of Voodoo say that the souls of the dead live in an underworld called Guinee, and that the seven gates to it are located in various New Orleans cemeteries in the city’s famous French Quarter. The story is that Voodoo witches open the Gates of Guinee to claim the souls of the dead. The order the gates are opened is very important, and in fact, the exact location remains a secret, because if you inquire about it or search for it, doom will follow. Even the tour guides will skirt around the subject, or act like they do not know what you are talking about. It is a real possibility that they, themselves, believe this Voodoo folklore and do not want to tempt fate.
7. Mount Hekla, Iceland
Mount Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. From its first-ever recorded eruption in 1104, travelers and locals alike thought it looked like earth had opened up and hell was upon them. Thus, it gained the nickname, “Gateway to Hell.” Birds flying nearby were thought to be souls swarming the “gateway,” and even now, the more superstitious who travel or live there claim it is where witches go to meet the devil. But back in the Middle Ages, bishops and priests around Europe had used the ominous mountain peak fable as proof that Satan was dwelling beneath their feet.
Mount Hekla last erupted in 2000, and has erupted 20 times since the settlement of Iceland, making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has blown every ten years since 1970, but has changed its rhythm in the past, so Icelanders are on alert that really, it could happen at any moment.
6. Chinoike Jigoku, Japan
Chinoike Jigoku translates from Japanese to “Bloody Hell Pond,” and it is one of nine natural hot springs in the city of Beppu on the island of Nagasaki. At 1,300 years old, its boiling waters are rich in iron oxide, turning it a deep red color. Steam rises from the 172.4-degree water, and the whole image definitely makes it easy to see why it is named what it is.
Since 700 C.E., sources have mentioned this pond, which according to Buddhist beliefs, looked like a “nightmarish underworld.” But most disturbing of all is the fact that Chinoike Jigoku was used to torture people and boil them to death.
It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area, and you can even purchase skin products made with the mud from Chinoike Jigoku at the massive souvenir shop there. Along with the shopping experience, other perks of this tourist excursion include free parking and a restaurant that serves Blood Pond Burgers. Yum!
5. Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua
Our first Central American doorway to hell on this list is the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. Nicknamed the “Gate to Hell” in the 16th century by the indigenous people and also Spanish invaders who feared it, it bears their mark to this day: a giant cross atop the volcano that was the Spaniards’ solution. They “baptized” the volcano and “exorcised” it of the devil by erecting this cross, called La Cruz de Bobadilla. They named the volcano itself La Boca del Infierno, which means “The Mouth of Hell.”
But it gets worse than these fearful conquistadors… The self-elected dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia tossed prisoners and political enemies from helicopters into the fiery pit of the volcano, making it a literal hell on earth for many poor souls as well as a potential portal to the real thing.
4. Acheron River, Greece
The Acheron is a river in northwest Greece, best known to many as one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld. The river was common throughout Greek mythology as well as in Dante’s Inferno. It is the fifth river (along with Cocytus, Phlegethon, Lethe, and Styx) in the underworld and also known as the “River of Woes,” and the “River of Pain.” Back in ancient times, people thought that because it flowed through dark gorges and went underground in several places, that it led to Hades.
In Greek mythology, it was a river in Hades, the river that the old ferryman Charon ferried the dead across from the land of the living to their new realm. Even now, the river is reputed to give access to hell. Known worldwide for its hellish origins in mythology, now the area in Epirus, Greece where the river springs is a place of outstanding natural beauty. Its crystal, blue-green waters meander through rich vegetation, forest slopes, and mountains until it reaches the Ionian Sea. Today, it is an ecosystem protected by the Natura 2000 Network, and in my opinion, looks more like a place to lay out all day than one to fear.
3. Cape Matapan, Greece
Greece is sure seeming like the place to go if you want to find hell, which is somewhat ironic since it is such a beautiful country. The Cape Matapan Caves on the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland has several alleged entrances to hell. They open at sea-level into a cliff face. These caves are a part of all the stories involving Hades in Greek mythology, but even the very real geographer Pausanias thought of the caves as the place where, “Cerberus was brought up from Hades by Herakles,” as documented in the Description of Greece from the 2nd century, A.D.
The caves, even now, can only be accessed by boats, which is fitting since legend has it that you can only enter Hades by boat as well. On the very tip of the Cape, Diros Cave is thought to be the actual front door to Hades’ abode. To the Spartans, it was a place of worship and human sacrifice for the sea god Poseidon, whose realm merges with the entrance to Hades. People who have traveled there in modern times say that though it has thus far only been explored superficially, there remains a surreal sense of something sinister lurking in the dark shadows. Seems appropriate.
2. Candelaria Caves, Guatemala
Caves are a popular place for entering hell, apparently. It makes sense, since caves generally penetrate deep into the earth, their bowels coming closer than anything else to what many cultures presumed was the underworld. Earlier on, we talked about the mythical Mayan underworld Xibalba, which was ruled by death gods. Caves in general were believed to be entry points by the Mayans to hell.
The Candelaria Caves in Guatemala are an 18-mile stretch of caverns and tunnels, complete with underground rivers, stalactites and stalagmites, and the same Mayan history of underworlds attached to it as the Mayan Cenotes in Mexico. Back in ancient times, the Great Western Trade Route of the Classic Maya went through the Candelaria Caves area, and the Popol Vuh of the K’iche people considered these caves the direct path to hell. Other notable caves thought to be doorways to hell by the Mayans include: Grutas de Languin, Naj Tunich, Semuc Champney, Actun Tunichil Muktan, all of which are in Mexico and Central America.
1. The Catacombs, France
Underneath Paris, 200 miles of catacombs along the Seine River lie in the dark, and some believe that this is the entrance to hell itself. Overcrowding in cemeteries (and the dead causing the living to suffer by rotting their water and attracting disease) led to people being buried in the abandoned mines and tunnels of the French capital city. It took decades for the six million exhumed bodies to be stacked systematically under the ground in this dark labyrinth. It has been a creepy tourist attraction for 200 years.
Many have gone missing down there when they have wandered astray (and then been charged an $83 fine upon being found) but only one man was lost forever in the dark crypt in 1793. His body was found 11 years later.
Parisians are still finding new entrances to the main mazes of the catacombs in their basements, because in the past, illegal mining was prevalent. I am sure that would be a scary surprise, though tourists and local youth seem to find the allure of the chilling place irresistible. Take it from someone who has walked those subterranean corridors; it is most definitely eerie, and I can see why people think it could be the gate to something much more sinister than a burial ground.