What if fire and brimstone were accessible from the earth’s surface? Ancient Greek and Roman myths tell of portals to the underworld, wherein gods traversed between the worlds and humans stumbled down into the abyss—or were swallowed up against their will. In medieval times, the volcanic Mount Etna on the island of Sicily was believed to be a gateway to Hell. Even today, there are places rumored to lead to the netherworld—and their locations may surprise you! Man-made or natural, these demonic “gateways” will have you thinking about just what burns beneath us.
Continual Fire beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania
Beneath the cracked asphalt streets of Centralia, Pennsylvania burns an underground coal mine fire. The chemical blaze was first lit in 1962—and may well continue burning for another 250 years. While arguments exist over what started the fire, it’s known that the blaze quickly spread through the old network of shafts and tunnels. Dangerous sinkholes appeared—one nearly swallowed up 12-year-old Todd Domboski in 1979, whose cousin was luckily able to pull him to safer ground—and steam plumes rose from the ground, releasing lethal amounts of carbon monoxide. People began comparing this fire—and the crumbling town that sat above it—to what hell must surely be.
Starting in 1984, the U.S. Government urged residents to leave Centralia, even helping with relocation costs; however, not everyone complied with the eviction requests. On Halloween of 2013, the last remaining eight residents of Centralia, Pennsylvania settled the lawsuit centered on their determination to stay, which included a $349,500 payout as well as the right to continue residence in Centralia until the end of their lives.
Gates of Hell in Clifton, New Jersey
This semi-abandoned storm drain in Passaic County, New Jersey is shrouded in an urban legend of being a gateway to Hell. Cautiously explored by locals and paranormal enthusiasts, the drainage system is filled with graffiti, inexplicable objects, strange locked rooms, and more stories than can be told. Many visitors claim to have heard strange knocking sounds and encountered human figures running at abnormal speeds, or experienced chills as they push further and further into the eerie depths of the tunnels. Legends include a diabolical room accessible only by those exhibiting superhuman strength. The cursed chamber leads into a labyrinthine system of passageways, with each room descending lower and closer to the Devil himself.
Mount Osore, Japan
With a literal translation of “Mount Fear,” the tales surrounding this volcanic mountain in central Japan have an eeriness about them. Believed by locals—currently and in ancient times—to be a gateway to the underworld, Mount Osore is viewed with fear and reverence. Helpful to this belief is a small brook that runs from the volcano to neighboring Lake Usori, and which acts as a “Sanzu River.” In Japanese Buddhist belief, the Sanzu River—or River of Three Crossings—is needed for souls of the deceased to make their way into the afterlife. Visiting the area, one can find statues and offerings along the riverbanks, assisting the spirits in their journey.
Fengdu Ghost City in Chongqing Municipality, China
Located on Ming Mountain, this collection of monasteries, shrines, and temples dates back nearly 2,000 years, and is the combination of three different belief systems—Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Chinese legend tells of two Imperial officials of the Han Dynasty who came to the area to practice Taoism, and subsequently became immortal. Their names, when combined, translated into “King of Hell.” Thus the area became known as a crossroads for spirits transitioning into the afterlife, and, perhaps, the underworld. In Buddhist mythology, the newly dead must pass three tests, and the temples in the Ghost City represent these three tests; the spirits here, it is believed, judge and torment the deceased and, ultimately, determine where they will proceed next in their life after life.
Door to Hell in Durweze, Turkmenistan
Perhaps the most viscerally accurate example of a gateway to hell, the sight of this burning crater in Durweze, Turkmenistan sends chills down your spine. Located on a natural gas field, the open pit is actually a collapsed cavern that geologists set ablaze in 1971, hoping to control the emission of methane gas and wrongly believing the fire would subside in a few days. While technically man-made, it’s hard to gaze into boiling mud, smoldering coals, and red flames licking the edge the massive pit—the size of an American football field!—and not see an open mouth to hell.
Photos (in order): Wikimedia Commons; Don Emmert / Getty; Owl's Flight / Flickr; China Photos / Getty; Japanexperterna.se / Flickr; Igor Sasin / Getty