If you’re looking for a one way trip to the underworld, there’s no shortage of alleged “gateways to hell” hidden all over the world. Kansas has the infamous Stull Cemetery, Greece has the Cape Matapan Caves, and Indiana had the Demon House (until Ghost Adventures‘ Zak Bagans tore it down), and though each location has a rich and fantastical history of unimaginable evil, none of them can compete with the terrifying background of the haunted Houska Castle.
Many of the world’s so-called gateways to hell amount to nothing more than a creepy setting with a really spooky urban legend attached, but then there’s Houska Castle, a 762-year-old gothic castle that was built to seal shut what locals believe is the real-life entrance to the underworld. Constructed between 1253 and 1278 in the Czech countryside, the location of the massive mansion was specifically chosen in order to seal up a mysterious “bottomless pit” where demonic creatures would enter our world after the sun went down.
Terrifying stories about the pit and the monsters that would claw their way of it at night – black winged creatures that were half human and half animal – spread far and wide. Villagers were terrified to be out of their homes at night, and many of them would never venture anywhere close to the hole, even during the brightest daylight hours.
Before construction on the hellmouth fortress began, all of the village’s prisoners who had been sentenced to death were marched to the edge of the bottomless pit and condemned to a particularly sinister fate: they were tossed in. Any prisoners who managed to make their way back from the pit alive were forgiven for their transgressions and set free. As you might imagine, that didn’t happen very often.
The very first man who was tied up and lowered into the pit began screaming in terror the moment he passed out of eyesight. When the frightened villagers hoisted him out of the darkness, they were horrified but what they saw. The prisoner, who had been a young man only minutes before, had aged more than 30 years while he was in the pit, and now had a full head of white hair.
As frightening reports of the demonic creatures attacking locals and dragging them into the bottomless pit began to grow in frequency, the villagers knew something needed to be done. Construction on the massive castle began with the hopes of sealing the gateway to hell for good.
Once construction has been completed, from the outside, Houska Castle castle appeared to be just that, a run-of-the-mill fortress. But those who got closer to the castle could notice that there was something strange about the structure. The visage of the building appears to have many windows, but upon further inspection, most of them are actually fake, and sturdy walls have been built behind the glass panes.
As if the faux windows weren’t strange enough, the castle was also built without fortifications, has no water source, was situated near no trading routes, and for years after it was completed, it had no occupants. These conditions were exceedingly strange for a castle, but those who knew the truth about what lied below the building understood its true purpose: to hold back the monsters.
Another clue to the true purpose of Houska Castle can be found in the faded frescoes on the walls of the chapel, some of which were discovered to be the oldest in Europe. Dragons – a medieval symbol of evil – are being fought by St. Michael, scenes of the Crucifixion are painted in stunning detail, and a beautiful portrait of St. Christopher all adorn the wall, but what’s strangest is the painting of a left-handed, half-horse creature aiming a bow at a human. References to pagan mythology were not something found on church walls in this part of the county. To boot, the left hand was associated with service to Satan, which has led many researchers to believe the centaur is a hint at the evil creatures which lurk beneath the church
Even after the bottomless pit had been sealed, strange tales continued to cling to the castle over the years. Those who listened carefully to the lower floors at night could hear the scratching of the winged creatures trying to claw their way to the surface, phantoms were seen walking the empty halls of the castle, and at one point, even the Nazis used the fortress as a secret headquarters. According to the legends, the Nazis had chosen Houska Castle in order to harness the powers of hell for themselves.
Today, mysterious phenomena can still be witnessed inside Houska Castle’s walls. In an effort to contain the demonic powers that hid below, the castle’s chapel was built directly overtop of the bottomless pit, and many visitors have heard what they describe as a “chorus of screams” coming from beneath the heavy floor. In the same area, numerous witnesses have described encountering a horrible creature that looks like a hybrid of a human, frog, and a bulldog.
Caretakers of the building have witnessed a headless spirit that stumbles through the courtyard, streams of blood gushing from his decapitated body, whose identity they’ve never managed to uncover. The current owner of the building, Jaromir Simonek, claims to have watched his drinking glass levitate off of a table where he and his friends had gathered one evening, only for it to calmly lower itself and slide to the table’s center.
One of the most evil presences is regularly encountered in the Hunting Lodge. One evening two guests, Zdena Vrzalova and her husband, were winding down in the room when they heard a loud “thump” on the floor next to them. When Zdena turned to look at the source of the noise, she was frozen in fear as two featureless, humanoid shadow-figures approached her and whispered about having killed young girls.
Over the years many paranormal television series have visited Houska Castle, all of which have concluded that its haunted, and many paranormal teams continue to visit the fortress with the hopes of documenting the paranormal activity that’s been plaguing the area for centuries. Let’s just hope none of them manage to accidentally re-open the gates to hell.