Gehenna, Hades, underworld, Sheol, Tartarus, Naraka. There are many names for the place where souls are banished and punished, but it is a place that almost every religion and every culture references. Your next vacation can feature a look into the world of the damned at these 11 gates to hell.
The Cave of Sibyl
The ancient Romans first described this cave over 2,000 years ago. The poet Virgil described the cave in The Aeneid as a place with a hundred entrances leading as far down as the underworld.
"The gates of hell are open night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: But to return, and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labor lies... "
—The Aeneid, book VI, Virgil
Many searched for Virgil’s “Antro della Sibilla,” but it wasn’t until 1932 that the cave was discovered by archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri, who also excavated in Pompeii. The Cave of Sibyl is now a part of the Cumae Archaeological Site.
You can visit the cave yourself, and maybe you will hear the “many voices issue, and the sound of Sybil’s words as many times rebound.” Virgil.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory
Lough Derg, Ireland
This location is an entrance to the Hell of Christian scripture. It was founded in the 15th century and is a monastery on Station Island. It is said that when St. Patrick visited the island, he was sent visions of hell.
The cave was later confirmed as a gateway to hell and a monastery was built over it to block the opening. The entrance has been sealed since 1632, but accounts prior to then say that it was a long pit that eventually reached a narrow, seemingly never ending, descent.
Many will travel to Station Island in order to contemplate the nature of Hell. The contemplations are meant to be done for three days, and the person should be barefoot for the entirety. This pilgrimage is known to be the most difficult in Europe and possibly in all of the Christian world.
Fengdu City of Ghosts
In the heart of China, you can find a city of ghosts with connections to Naraka, the underworld of Chinese mythology.
Fengdu is a 2,000 year old settlement which was founded during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). It is located at the north end of the Yangtze River on Ming Hill. Yin and Wang, two dissident officials, fled to the hill to escape the Emperor. In the telling of their tale, their names were eventually changed to “Qinguang Wang Jiang,” one of the rulers of hell.
The entire city is filled with reminders of the torment that awaits those who enter the underworld. The landmarks have hellish names like “Last Glance at Home Tower,” “Nothing-to-be-Done Bridge,” and “Ghost Torturing Pass.” The squares are filled with statues of ghosts and demons, and there is a 138 meter tall (452 feet), 217 meter wide (712 feet) rock face named “The Ghost King.” It looks down over the city of Fengdu and is the largest rock sculpture in the world.
Mount Osore, which translates to Mountain of Horror, is a dormant volcano surrounded by a poisonous lake wafting clouds of sulfur. Standing on its surrounding charred grounds, it takes no imagination to imagine why it is considered a gate to hell.
It sits next to the Sanzu River, which Japanese Buddhist belief says all souls must cross before the afterlife. This makes Mount Osore a sacred Buddhist site.
While visiting, be sure to go meet the Itako, a group of blind shamans who communicate with the dead.
Denizli Province, Turkey
Pluto’s Gate, or the “Ploutonion,” was thought to only exist in writing and to not be real until 3013. The ancient temple was discovered during an archaeological dig in Turkey. It sits upon a thermal spring, which has long been believed to be a gateway to hell.
The Temple of Pluto is well documented in writing. Around 0 A.D., the Greek philosopher Strabo wrote, “any animal that passes inside meets instant death.” The Ancient Romans would use it as a place to sacrifice animals. They would lead the animals to the opening and the animals would die. Priests would stick their heads over it and would hallucinate.
Research has shown that the vapors emitted from the opening are Carbon Dioxide, and it is enough to cause anything near it to asphyxiate within minutes. The gasses are still active, but there is now a protective bridge around the gate keeping people far enough away from the emissions to be able to safely observe it.
Cape Matapan Caves
Cape Matapan, The Mani, Greece
The Ancient Greeks believed these caves to be an entrance to the Kingdom of Shades. There are many that used the caves to descend into Hell. Orpheus used the caves to rescue Eurydice, Hercules entered the underworld through the caves, and Cerberus was brought up from Hades by Herakles from the caves.
The Cape Matapan Caves are at the end of the Mani peninsula in the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland. They open up at sea level and can only be visited by boat.
This 13th century gothic mansion stands over the countryside about 50 miles north of Prague. It is said to be constructed over a bottomless pit that leads straight to hell.
Before the castle was built, it is said that local villagers were being harassed by demons that would crawl out of the pit. A man was once lowered on a rope into the pit. When he was no longer in sight, he began to scream. Lore says he was raised back up and had aged 30 years.
The castle was built in 1253 AD with the sole purpose of closing the portal. The castle had no known tenants, has no water source, and no fortification. You can visit the castle, but watch out in the basement!
Hekla (or Hecla) brings about a sight of hell as it is a stratovolcano in the southern mountains of Iceland.
In his poem about the journeys of Saint Brendan, the monk Benedict named Hekla the “eternal prison of Judas.” In the Middle Ages, Europeans referred to the volcano as the gateway to hell. In 1341, Flatey Book Annal, a medieval Icelandic manuscript, described birds that would fly into the fiery crater. It was thought that these birds were the souls of the damned.
The volcano is the most active in Iceland and has had more than 20 serious eruptions since 874 AD, the last time in 2000. There are many monitors around the volcano, but visitors should know that the volcano could erupt any time without warning.
The Gates of Guinee
New Orleans, Louisiana
According to Voodoo mythology, the dead are sent to Guinee, a kind of purgatory, before they go to the deep waters to meet their ancestors. Ioa, who goes by Baron Samedi, oversees Guinee.
Souls that are in Guinee are at risk as Hoodoo magicians can bring them back as zombies. There are stories of Voodoo practitioners opening the gates in order to reclaim souls. To enter Guinee, the seven gates need to be opened in the correct order, and each gate has a different Ioa that must be presented with offerings.
The exact locations of the gates are unknown, but it is thought that the summoning sigil of Baron Samedi provides a clue. When his sigil is aligned over Basin Street and Canal Street, the seven stars in his sigil fall on seven notable cemeteries. It is thought that these seven cemeteries are the locations of the seven gates of Guinee.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, Brazil
The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave system is linked to Mayan legends. Mayan stories describe the cave as a place where there were rivers of blood, scorpions, and death gods.
The cave system was rediscovered in 1989 and has become a popular destination for explorers. Inside the cave, there are fragments of pottery, bone, and even a skeleton of an 18-year-old girl who is believed to have been killed in a ritual as a sacrifice to the death gods. Her bones have calcified, giving them a shimmering effect, and giving her the nickname the “Crystal Maiden.” There are many other remains that can be found in the cave system, also having been calcified, but none are as well preserved as the Crystal Maiden.
There are also many interesting landmarks to be seen in the caves, with one of the most notable being a large chamber filled with stalactites, called the “Cathedral.” You can visit these caves and get a glimpse of "Xibalba”, the Mayan underworld, for yourself!
Beppu City, Japan
Beppu City hosts 9 hot springs, each with a different color. In the middle of the spa is a red pool known as the “Bloody Hell Pond.” Surrounding the pond is a collection of demons carved into rocks. The springs have been mentioned in Buddhist texts as early as 700 AD, and have likened the red pond to the bubbling pits of hell.
The pond is about 78 degrees Celsius (172.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and in the past was used to torture prisoners before boiling them alive. The pond gets its color from iron oxide deposits.
Today, you can visit the springs and enjoy a health spa, a visitor’s center, and a gift shop where you can buy mud from the pools to use a skin cream.