The Gateway to Hell: The Terrifying Stories and History of Houska Castle

Houska Castle has become one of the Czech Republic’s most famous landmarks. Nestled away deep in the Czech countryside, Houska Castle was built near the top of a cliff around one hour from the city of Prague. 

Constructed between 1253 and 1278 during the reign of Ottokar II of Bohemia, the castle’s original purpose has become the subject of many dark and terrifying stories. As the gothic structure today attracts thousands of visitors each year, it’s reputation has been tainted as one of the most haunted locations anywhere in the world.

While Houska Castle might seem like an enchanting stronghold from the outside, the secrets and legends that are told from within its walls are even more formidable. 

If you’re lucky enough to observe Houska Castle from the outside, you’ll notice some quite peculiar additions. Firstly, most of the windows are not in use. Glass pains were installed during the castle’s construction, but walls were also built behind them, preventing them from being used.

Secondly, the castle doesn’t appear to have been built to withstand battles. Though the location may initially seem somewhat strategic as it is situated at the top of a cliff overlooking the Czech countryside, there are no sources of water, no kitchen, and the building stood vacant for years after its construction. This has raised doubts as to the castle’s intended purpose, but if it wasn’t built to be a fort or residence, why was it built at all? One of the most prominent legends surrounding Houska Castle may provide the answer.

The Gateway to Hell

The area in which the castle was built isn’t all that strategic. It’s in the middle of nowhere. There are no trade routes nearby, and it’s engulfed by dense forests, swamps and sandstone mountains.  

The most popular legend surrounding the castle’s construction suggests it was built to conceal a portal to Hell. 

Archeological evidence shows that Celtic people had settled in the area hundreds of years prior to the castle being built, and Slavic tribes had migrated to the area as far back as the 6th century. Before Houska Castle was built, archaeologists have also found evidence of a wooden structure existing there in the 9th century. This wooden structure was mentioned by Vaclav Hajek in his Czech Chronicle which was published in 1541.

Vaclav Hajek also mentioned a strange crack in the top of the limestone cliff, and a pit so deep, that it seemed to be endless. The Houska pit was attributed as the source of strange visitations. After numerous people suffered from these visitations, the locals began referring to the Houska pit as the hole to Hell. It was completely avoided by all residents in the area after dark.

According to legend, the castle which stands today was built over the Houska pit, in order to conceal the gateway to Hell. 

Locals reported seeing black winged creatures coming up out of the pit and attacking people. Residents reportedly went missing in the forest surrounding the pit, and were thought to have been dragged to hell by the winged beasts.

Though the hole is often referred to as the gateway to Hell, it’s also referred to as the Houska Castle pit. 

In accordance with the castle’s paranormal origins, one highly significant feature of the castle is its defences. Rather than having defences on the outside to try and stop people getting in, all of its defences were built on the inside, as though they were built to try and keep something in. These internal defences point toward the courtyard.

The castle was built as a fortification to shield the world from the forces of a demonic nature, but more specifically, it’s the chapel within the castle that covers the supposed gateway to Hell. The chapel is appropriately dedicated to Saint Michael, who protects against the forces of darkness. 

Today, visitors have claimed to be able to hear the scratches of these entities from beneath the floorboards of the chapel, as they desperately try and claw their way back into the world. Ghostly figures have also been seen wandering the castle grounds. 

Urban Legends Surrounding Houska Castle

When the construction of Houska Castle began, the intrigue of the locals got the better of them. Eager to know what was below the surface of the Houska pit, local authorities agreed to pardon prisoners if they agreed to be lowered by rope into the gateway to hell. 

The first of the prisoners who agreed to the terms in order to escape a more severe punishment, was lowered down into the endless pit. He vanished into the darkness, before those on the surface began to hear his blood-curdling screams. Those waiting eagerly above pulled the man up frantically, and when he came back into sight, he looked as if he had aged around 30 years, just from spending a few seconds in the darkness of the pit. His hair had turned white – his skin now wrinkled.

He had been so disturbed by whatever he had seen in the pit, that when he reached the surface, he was still screaming. He was placed in an asylum, but died two days later from an unknown cause.

The Nazi Occupation

The Nazi’s were famously fascinated with the occult. Their research into the paranormal was at times both extreme and desperate, and with a reputation such as Houska Castles, it wasn’t long before the Nazi’s decided to take it for themselves and put the local theories to the test.

With World War II resulting in fierce fighting across the continent, the Nazi’s swept into the Czech Republic, and decided to enrich their knowledge of the occult by studying at Houska Castle. 

The infamous SS chief Heinrich Himmler, was so obsessed with pagan lore and occult teachings, that he made it his personal objective to collect as many books and manuscripts about witchcraft, the occult and the supernatural as he could. He was said to have amassed a collection of over 13,000 pieces of material, many of which were stored at Houska Castle. 

Himmler was adamant that by harnessing the powers of the occult, the Nazi’s could achieve world domination. Himmler has been accredited as the initial founder of ”Esoteric Hitlerism”, and it’s said that many high ranking Nazi officials, including Hitler himself, would attend secret ceremonies to try and harness supernatural power. Many of these ceremonies were thought to have taken place at Houska Castle. 

After the war, the remains of three german soldiers were uncovered in the inner courtyard – they had been shot. Despite the discovery of the skeletons, it remains a mystery as to why, and when they were killed at the castle. 

The Swedish Commander

In the midst of the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648), the control of Houska Castle was taken over by the Swedish Army. 

The Swedish Commander at the time, Oronto, was known to be a cruel man, who gave his men specific orders to plunder everything they could, as well as giving them free reigns to practice rape as sport. 

Oronto made Houska Castle his primary base for some time. While he was based there, it’s said that he was well aware of the stories of the paranormal phenomena that had been reported at the castle. In order to try and unlock the power from beneath the foundations, it’s said that he practiced numerous rituals, which included animal sacrifice. 

The Swedish Commander was also known to be carrying out inhumane experiments on prisoners of war. Locals thought the experiments were resulting in the strange noises and lights that could be frequently seen and heard around the Houska pit. 

Despised by his actions, the locals that had remained in the area decided to offer a reward of 100 gold to those who could kill him. Two huntsmen were keen to take the locals up on their offer, and managed to shoot him through a window. He died in the main hall, and his ghost is still said to roam Houska Castle in anger. 

To coincide with the varied nationalities that once held the castle – voices and screams in different languages are often heard throughout the castle at night. These screams may be coming from the prisoners of war that were held captive there, or the local villagers that were taken down into the Houska castle pit by the flying demonic entities. 

Karel Hynek Macha

Czech poet Karel Hynek Macha visited Houska Castle in 1836, and spent a night there during his walking tour of the region. 

In his dreams, he had a terrifying vision, which he recorded in a letter to his friend, Edward Hindle. 

Macha described a vision in which his soul descended into the pit, and was then transported to a type of hellish mechanized future – Prague 2006. Once he had found himself in this technological future, he found himself wandering aimlessly in horror and despair.

In his vision, a girl came to him, and continued to show him a series of moving pictures in a small casket, before finding himself walking along some high sandstone cliffs in complete darkness, that were riddled with holes that projected an eerie yellow light.

In other ghostly tales, a headless black horse is said to gallop through the surrounding area.  Visitors have also reported seeing a line of ghostly people, all chained together – each one with an injury or disability walking towards the castle.  A phantom White Lady is also said to haunt the building.