Built in the 13th century in what is now the Czech Republic, Houska Castle was said to have been built to block access to a gateway to hell located beneath the castle’s chapel.
Located around 30 miles north of Prague, Houska Castle is well preserved, retaining much of its Gothic stylings, including an intact chapel. Built in the latter half of the 13th century, it is thought to have been constructed on the orders of Ottakar II, known as the Iron and Golden King. Ottakar II ruled Bohemia for 25 years before his death in 1278. Considered one of the great Bohemian Kings, he ultimately lost the crown, and his life, at the Battle of Marchfeld, where his forces were defeated by Habsburg King Rudolf I.
Bohemian territories then fell under Habsburg control for more than 600 years. The Habsburg dynasty would eventually rise to rule the Holy Roman Empire, an enormous territory that covered much of central Europe including modern-day Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria, Croatia, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as parts of Poland, France and Italy.
Houska Castle regularly changed hands during Habsburg rule, passing from one aristocratic family to the next. Built in a remote area of forests, swamps and mountains, the castle does not appear to lend itself to long-term occupancy. There are no kitchens, it is located far from any route from which it could be easily resupplied, and indeed it appeared to have no occupants at all for a period after its initial construction.
Equally strangely, particularly for the period, Houska Castle has no external defences like walls or ramparts, instead relying on its location on an exposed cliff for protection. Many of the apparent windows are fake, consisting of glass panels and frames backed by thick stone walls. The land surrounding it, sparsely populated and covering large spans of uninhabitable highland and swampland, appears to have no strategic value.
The chapel at Houska Castle has long been associated with the occult, and many believe it was constructed over a hole straight to hell, so deep as to appear bottomless. Local legend tells of both winged beings and strange human-animal hybrids emerging from the pit in the years before Houska Castle was built over it, dragging locals back to the depths.
Another tale states that prisoners sentenced to death would be offered a pardon, on condition that they allow themselves to be lowered into the pit and would report back on what they found. When the technique was attempted, the man at the end of the rope began screaming and was dragged back up. He was said to have aged rapidly while in the hole, descending as a relatively young man but having white hair and pronounced wrinkles on his return.
The presence of this supposed pit is said to explain the strange nature of Houska’s construction. The castle was never meant to be occupied, and there are no external defences because the fortifications point inwards, preventing the demons from escaping into the mortal world.
During the Second World War, the castle was occupied by German forces between 1938 and 1945. Legend from that period claims that the Nazis conducted occult experiments in Houska Castle, seeking to harness the powers of hell for use in the war effort. The castle was opened to the public in 1999, including the chapel. While there is no evidence for the presence of a pit, many still claim to hear the scratching sounds or screams of demons trying to claw their way out. Others report seeing strange, misshapen phantoms within the grounds of the castle.