Back in October 2016 I woke up early one morning in Prague and headed to the countryside. Driving through foggy back roads in the Bohemian forest, I finally came to my destination: a parking lot in a wooded area surrounded by forest. Upon getting out of my rental car, the first thing I noticed was the amount of rotten apples consuming the area, as if the trees were dying. With my camera gear in hand, I walked for about ten minutes through the woods, passing some farm houses until I got to the gates of Hrad Houska (Houska Castle). This 13th century castle is not like any other I have seen. Usually castles are strategically placed and are visible from miles away. This castle is a bit different, it's placed on flat ground in the middle of the forest. Steeped in legend and folklore, they say this place was built over the gateway to Hell. I won't go into all the details of all the stories that have been told about this place, but a simple Google search will allow you to go down a rabbit hole about it. According to legend, there was a pit in this forest and it appeared to never end. Stories of winged creatures flying out of the pit at night, and animals disappearing into the pit had been told for years. One story tells of some criminals in charge of building the castle who were set to be executed after completion, but if they agreed to be lowered into the pit to see what happens, they would be set free. Unfortunately, none of them lived to tell what happened. The only one that was brought back up to the surface was said to have aged dramatically over the course of a few minutes. White hair, wrinkled skin and speaking nonsense; he died a few days later. A small chapel was built on top of the pit to keep the darkness closed off, and then a castle was built around the Chapel. The actual structure of the castle is very odd. It has no kitchen and the towers appear to face inwards, as if to keep something in rather than keeping the enemy out. For years, stories of different people staying in the castle were said to have intense nightmares or visions. During World War II the Nazi's occupied Hrad Houska. It is said that the SS were there and they conducted different secret experiments. The SS were known to be obsessed with the Occult, and it is said that they were trying to figure out how to harness the gateway's power. The SS destroyed their research on everything when the war was ending, so we may never actually know what they were doing here or what they learned. Nowadays, you can find various paranormal and ghost hunting shows that have been here to investigate. Voices have been heard and shadows have been known to appear and then disappear out of nowhere. To this day there are still reports of car batteries dying unexpectedly just from parking near the castle. They say this one of the most haunted places in Europe. With all the stories and mysteries cloaked around this place, I had to see it for myself. Anyone interested in visiting this place should know that it's not really accessible by public transportation. This is not a big tourist destination and you might not even be let inside. If there are not enough people to be in a group for a tour, they simply won't do it. My friend Shawn and I were lucky that day, we along with ten other people were able to take the tour. The tour itself was very interesting, there is a great collection of old Medieval weapons and art throughout the castle. So many rooms and so much history in one place, you would never know this was the same place from the stories. Finally we made it to the small chapel that is said to be built over the gate to Hell. The chapel is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, who in the Book of Revelations, fought against Satan and his armies. One of the most intriguing things about this place is some of the artwork that is depicted on the walls. It features some very old Fresco style paintings such as St. Michael stabbing a winged creature (demon or devil) with a spear that is coming up from the ground. There is also a painting of a centaur, which is a half person half horse and in the painting it is shooting an arrow into the neck of woman using its left hand. The left hand back in the old days was thought to be associated with evil, and a centaur is considered to be Pagan. Historians have been baffled by these paintings and do not know why a Pagan image would be in a holy place like this. After we went through the castle and chapel, we made it out to the courtyard. The group gathered and the tour guide pointed to a small door. He said inside there was the old cellar/chamber that was nicknamed "Satan's Office". People were said to have been tortured in this place. I was told I would have to turn off my camera and that no photos were allowed down there whatsoever. I assured him my camera was off and I would not take any photos. The tour guide told everyone we could go and check the place out now, but that he would not be joining us because he does not feel comfortable in this place, and so he never enters the room. This brought me joy and relief knowing that he wouldn't be there to watch over me the whole time. We entered the first room with everyone, and almost immediately you could feel a change in the mood. The chamber was dark and covered with images of the Devil. There were carvings of his face coming out of the walls, which created a dark medieval atmosphere. I would say within two minutes of being inside this place, everyone in the tour group felt extremely uncomfortable and left. At last it was just Shawn and I left in there to explore the area a bit more. We walked down the small stairs into "Satan's Office", where wooden rails with Demon faces carved into them led us to the Devil's Throne. A medieval hand carved throne stands before you, engulfed with demon faces carved into the walls. It was cold and desolate down there, and all I could think about were the stories people have said about seeing a hooded figure walking by the Throne. I began to take some photos, but my camera was giving me some trouble. The lighting was so poor down there, and perhaps something else did not want me to show people what was down there. I took what photos I could and made my way back up into the other room. I loved being down there; it had a certain energy about it. If you stood in silence for a minute, you could feel something down there. The legends and folklore surrounding this place might just be that, but nobody can say for sure. If the Gateway to Hell exists, then this location is the perfect place for it.


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