One of the oldest concepts believed by man is that of heaven and hell. By extension of that belief, people also believe in God and the Devil in some form or the other in all cultures across the world. Since heaven and hell are regarded as places, it is thought that there are places on Earth which could be entrances, or portals, to these dimensions. The very thought of these places or gates is bone-chilling. These gates are said to be either natural things like volcanoes, caves and rivers. Some could also be man-made. Let us explore some of these.
Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan
A natural gas crater, continuously burning since 1971, and over 230 feet wide, is our first entry. Known by many names such as the Darvaza Crater, the Crater of Fire, the Gate to Hell, and, the Door to Hell, it is located 160 miles South of the capital city of Ashgabat. When a natural gas field collapsed scientists set fire to prevent the methane escaping.
This picturesque volcanic crater lake located near Naples was first regarded by the Romans as a gateway to hell. There is an underwater cave purported to be the actual entrance. The brimstone fumes emanating from the lake were considered toxic enough to kill birds flying overhead, giving the lake its name, Avernus. Another name for this lake is the Devil’s Lair. The spot has been immortalised by Virgil and Homer.
There exist six sinkhole caves known as cenotes in Mexico, that the Mayas worshiped and used to bury their sacrificed. The formations occurring in these caves are thought to have inspired their vision of Xibalba, the Underworld. They built a westbound network of underground roads, caves, temples and rivers, depicting the entrance to hell. They believed the way to the afterlife was to the west.
Translating to “Mount Fear”, one glance at the landscape is enough to tell why this place came to be regarded as a gateway to hell. It is actually a caldera volcano on Honshu island in Japan. The sulphur fumes and bubbling pits in combination with the charred landscape must be why locals refer to it as the “burning mountain”. It is demarcated by a small brook neighbouring the Sanzu river.
Seven Gates of Hell, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania, has two legends referring to there being seven gates of Hell. Both say the gates are in some wooded region, and crossing all seven is a sure-fire way to Hades himself. Hellam Township, founded in 1793, is where the gates are believed to be, leading to a burnt mental asylum. Some say, nobody ever returned once they crossed the fifth gate.
South of Chongqing, along the Yangtze River, Fengdu Ghost City, represents the Chinese view of the underworld. The Chinese believe the devil resides in Fengdu and that evil souls pass into the afterlife from this place. The 2000-year old Ghost city is home to an enormous statue of the Ghost King carved into rock. The city has since been submerged after the Three Gorges Dam was built.
Situated in North-Western Greece, the Acheron river is one of five legendary rivers to the underworld in Greek mythology. It is thought to be a river actually in Hades, where Charon, the ferryman, led the dead to the afterlife.The other names for the Acheron river are the ‘River of Pain’ and the ‘River of Woes’. It is known the world over as a gateway to hell.
Along the Seine River, underneath the bustling city of Paris, lie 200 miles of catacombs, which are regarded by many to be the portal to hell. These were originally underground mines, which were filled with exhumed bodies systematically over decades. This was done because the cemeteries were filled beyond capacity and the rotting corpses were affecting public health. It is common for people to get lost wandering the catacombs.
Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua
This volcano, was so feared as a hellsgate, that Spanish invaders even attempted to baptize the place by erecting a giant cross at the top. They thought by doing this they were exorcising the Devil. They called the cross La Cruz de Bobadilla, while they called the volcano, La Boca del Infierno, “The Mouth of Hell”. It’s easy to imagine their fear looking at the continuous smoke and sulphur gas.
Mount Hekla, Iceland
One of the most active volcanoes in Iceland, Mount Hekla got its nickname of “gateway to hell”, back when it erupted in 1104. Locals and travellers alike thought that hell was trying to break out from the gaping hole in the earth. Nearby birds were considered souls on their way to hell.