All across the world, there are portals to hell. Some are simply called that, like the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan, thanks to the way it looks—a singular fiery pit that’s raged for decades. Others, like Houska Castle in Czechia, have been told to guard portals to hell, trapping a myriad of demons below its very foundations.
From folklore to very real pits and caves, here are our favorite portals to take you to the netherworld.
At first glance, it’s hard to believe that this smoldering maw in the Karakum Desert is real. Yet the Darvaza gas crater, as it is officially known, is neither the product of Photoshop nor demonic acts, but rather human folly. This 230-foot hole has been burning since a Soviet drilling rig accidentally broke into a natural gas cave in 1971.
What do you do to stop a horde of subterranean demons from bursting forth from the netherworld? Pop a big, ominous-looking Gothic castle right on top of it. Supposedly, the gate to hell under this 13th-century fortress was so deep that no one could see the bottom.
With a name that loosely translates to the “Bloody Hell Pond,” these crimson pools reach a skin-scalding 78 degrees Celsius (that’s 172 degrees Fahrenheit). As if that weren’t unnerving enough, Chinoike Jigoku was once used to torture people by effectively boiling them alive.
Hacienda Heights, California
Few phrases inspire horror movie flashbacks like the words “abandoned sanatorium.” Add to the fact that this hospital, which has been fenced off for more than a decade, is covered in cult symbols and mysterious red stains and you have a place that would give anyone the creeps.
Tambon Saen Suk, Thailand
This Buddhist depiction of hell rivals Dante’s Inferno in its specific visions of eternal torture. This vision of damnation features 136 pits, complete with sinners being ripped apart by dogs and boiled in copper cauldrons.
To the casual observer, this circular stone set over a filled-in pit in the ancient Roman Forum may not look like much. But according to lore, this mysterious place was once the gateway to the underworld.
“Welcome to Hell!” is how locals often cheerfully greet outsiders to this small town. No one quite knows why George Reeves gave this hamlet such an unusual name, but it’s clear that residents have leaned all the way into the puns.
Ever since a particularly dramatic eruption in 1104, this 1,491-meter stratovolcano in Iceland inspired particular foreboding across the Medieval European continent. in his 1180 volume Liber De Miraculis, the French Cistercian monk Herbert de Clairvaux wrote of Hekla: “The renowned fiery cauldron of Sicily, which men call Hell’s chimney … that cauldron is affirmed to be like a small furnace compared to this enormous inferno.”
Don’t let the placid appearance of these azure waters fool you. According to the Maya tradition, cenotes—natural sinkholes sprinkled around the Yucatan Peninsula—lead straight to the underworld. According to some heavily debated accounts, they were used in human sacrifices.
Denizli Merkez, Turkey
Ploutonion, or “Pluto’s Gate,” matches the description of a 6th-century temple leading to the underworld. The site is tied to a thermal spring, which releases toxic fumes powerful enough to kill small birds and give priests vivid hallucinations.
Monte di Cuma, Italy
In the Aeneid, Virgil wrote “The Gates of Hell 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…” This foreboding grotto closely resembles his description of a cave with a hundred openings that housed a famous prophetess.
According to ancient Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, was forced to spend half the year in the underworld with Hades. Some believed that this cave atop a set of carved stairs was where she made her descent.
Located to the northwest of Lake Bracciano, this caldera was once associated with the Etruscan god of the underworld. Today, you can still see small bubbles, courtesy of geothermal activity.