The Eerie History Of Houska Castle, The Gothic Fortress Built To Seal A ‘Gateway To Hell’

Published April 7, 2022

Constructed near Prague in the 13th century, Houska Castle has housed mad scientists, Nazis, and perhaps even "demons."

Aerial Courtyard View Of Castle Houska
Grave Stone At Houska Castle
Houska Castle From Above
View Of Shaft In Houska Castle
The Eerie History Of Houska Castle, The Gothic Fortress Built To Seal A ‘Gateway To Hell’
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Hidden by thick forestry, Houska Castle in Czechia is shrouded in nightmarish myth and occultist legend. It was built atop a cliff in Prague's countryside, mysteriously isolated from all trade routes. It had no source of water or fortification. Some say it wasn't built to keep evil from entering — but to prevent it from spilling out.

According to the castle's official website, it was built in the 13th century as an administrative hub for the king, but Czech folklore maintains that the true purpose of its construction was to seal a gaping crack in the limestone. Locals believed this was a gateway to Hell from which demonic beings emerged to feed on villagers and drag them back into the abyss, never to be seen again.

Legend has it that prisoners who were facing the gallows were offered full pardons, but only if they agreed to be lowered into the bottomless hole and report on what they saw. The first man to do so was young and healthy, and he happily accepted. Within seconds, however, he cried to be raised up. When he was pulled from the chasm, his hair had turned white.

The castle's eerie history doesn't stop there, though. Nazi experiments took place within its walls during World War II. Some say the Wehrmacht occupied this castle precisely to investigate whether the gateway to Hell was real, as feverish occultism had consumed its higher ranks. Today, Houska Castle remains one of the most haunted places on Earth.

The Haunted History Of Houska Castle

While Houska Castle now welcomes countless tourists from around the world, the limestone cliff on which it sits has drawn people in since antiquity. Archaeological evidence shows Celtic tribes inhabited the land far before the Middle Ages, and Slavic tribes migrated to the region in the sixth century.

As Bohemian chronicler Václav Hájek detailed in his Czech Chronicle in 1541, the first known structure at the site was a small wooden fort in the ninth century. Hájek also recounted local folklore that described the emergence of a crack in the cliff. It revealed a seemingly endless abyss that villagers deemed an entrance to Hell.

Locals were terrified of the half-human hybrids that began to crawl out of the hole at night and tear livestock apart. Fearful of turning into these demonic entities themselves, villagers avoided the rocky entrance. They tried to block it with stones, but the abyss allegedly gobbled up anything they dropped into it, refusing to be filled.

Chapel With Candle In Houska Castle

jolene_fleur/InstagramThe castle's chapel was dedicated to Archangel Michael.

King Ottokar II of Bohemia had the gothic structure built sometime between 1253 and 1278. Oddly, the original construction omitted stairs from the courtyard to the upper floors, and most of the structure's defenses were built facing inwards. It was as if the purpose of the castle wasn't to keep invaders out but rather to keep something trapped within.

Perhaps most notable of all, the king had the gateway to Hell sealed with stone plates and had a chapel built above it. The chapel was dedicated to the Archangel Michael who led God's armies against Lucifer's fallen angels, leading some to believe the gateway truly existed — or still does.

By 1639, the castle was occupied by a Swedish mercenary named Oronto. The black magic practitioner allegedly toiled nightly in his laboratory in an effort to create an elixir for eternal life. This instilled villagers with so much mortal fear that two local hunters assassinated him. Despite Oronto's death, locals continued to avoid the area.

The Gateway To Hell In The Modern Day

Scholars have since discovered cracks in Hájek's histories, and any evidence of Oronto's existence is rather dubious. Houska Castle did trade hands between various nobles and aristocrats in later centuries, however. It was renovated in the 1580s, fell into disrepair by the 1700s, and was fully restored in 1823. A century later, Josef Šimonek, president of Škoda Auto, purchased the castle for himself.

In the 1940s, the Nazis overtook the castle during their occupation of Czechoslovakia, though their reasons for doing so are unclear, as the castle lacked defenses and was 30 miles from Prague. According to Castles Today, some believe they needed to secure the 13,000-manuscript library of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, who was obsessed with the occult and believed that its power would help the Nazis rule the world.

Himmler allegedly feared his trove of blasphemous materials would be destroyed in the war, but was something even more sinister afoot? Locals at the time reported strange lights and horrifying sounds coming from the castle. Some say that many top Nazi officials, including Himmler, attended dark ceremonies at Houska Castle in which they attempted to harness the power of Hell.

Courtyard Of Castle Houska Today

Wikimedia CommonsSkeletal remains of Nazis were purportedly found in the courtyard of Houska Castle.

After the war, the Šimonek family regained ownership of Houska Castle, and they still own it to this day. The castle has been open to the public since 1999. The Prague Daily Monitor reports that many visitors are baffled by its counterintuitive architecture and unnerved by the fresco paintings in the chapel.

The strangest of these paintings depicts a creature with the upper body of a human woman and the lower body of a horse. While it was unheard of at the time to include depictions of pagan mythology in a church, even more staggering is the fact that the centaur is using its left hand to shoot an arrow — as left-handedness was associated with service to Satan in the Middle Ages. Historians believe the painting is a hint to the creatures that lurk beneath the church.

Indeed, to this day, visitors claim to hear screams and scratching noises from beneath the chapel floor.

After learning about Houska Castle, read about Caerlaverock Castle and its 800 years of Scottish history. Then, check out 33 pictures of Spain's Bellver Castle.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.