Hell is in the Czech Republic.
Don’t take it from me, take it from the Czechs and their forebears.
Deep in the heart of Northern Bohemia there is a deep and unmeasured pit, leading down into the darkness of a remote hill. Above that pit stands a lone castle, built for apparently no reason. The hills there have no resources, no trade routes, no strategic advantages that other castles don’t cover.
Yet there is a castle.
Approaching Castle Houska
When the castle was built over a millennium ago, it was built without outer fortifications, no walls. Without barracks. Without command over any road or way. It was built with everything facing inward. A square building around a square courtyard with a square well in the center. There are three floors, each with balconies that wrap around the entire square. The whole place gives one the feeling of a prison.
the square design and main gate
The well though is not the central important feature.
Opposite the main entrance, there is a door to the chapel. The chapel’s floor covers the pit.
It’s said that before the pit was covered, locals had long complained of half-man half-beast creatures roaming through the woods. The local authorities came and built the castle. The chapel has in it the oldest preserved Gothic paintings on the walls, one which shows a sort of left-handed, female centaur with a bow, aiming it at a man. There’s also prominently shown the traditional image of St. Michael slaying a demon.
During the 30 Years War, the Swedish Army occupied the castle. The Swedish commander was evidently an avid huntsman and a witch. He was said to sacrifice locals there to the demons, trying to provoke a great black rabbit to emerge in the woods. If he slew the rabbit, then he would become immortal. He was shot by a local marksman.
In World War II, the Nazis occupied the castle. Specifically, the Hexen Sonderauftrag. The Nazis were known for their rounding up degenerate art and, for the most part, locking it away in cellars or just flat out burning it. The H-Sonderauftrag was in charge of sorting that art and seeing if any of it related to an alternate magical history of Europe. Specifically, they were interested in two things—if they were able to create a new German religion based on the pagan Teutonic roots, or if they could somehow blame possible enemies of the state, like the Catholic Church, on an affront against Germans in history, such as during the witch trials. If for instance, they could find evidence that the Catholics had been targeting ethnic Germans, then if the Church denounced the Nazis for their execution of Jews and Roma, then the Nazis could point their fingers back at the Church.
The Nazis used Houska Castle as a magical artifact depository of sorts. They were said to have conducted unknown experiments there, perhaps trying to make the Spear of Destiny lead people to immortality or what not, nobody knows. The only thing we do know is that there were the bodies of three Nazi soldiers buried on the grounds.
There’s a small yard at the front of the castle. On the right side is a fairly new wooden building that houses the “Wood Museum of Hell”, filled with wooden carvings of demons. Next to that is a kennel with two very large dogs. On the lawn are various bits of steel works, all following the theme.
a lawn ornament
The tour is in Czech with English scripts. It’s led by a guy in medieval wear, complete with upturned leather shoes. He seems to quite dig the whole occult drawing that the castle gets, and it’s no doubt that that’s how he ended up there. He’s quite chatty, but he only speaks Czech so we were only capable of some broken conversation and lots of nodding and yeahs.
He first takes us to the chapel. Then to the hunting lodge. He informs us that the house was used as a random things storage place, mostly housing banned books. It was left in disrepair. When the Communist regime fell, there were holes in the ceiling and water had ruined much of the interior, but they were working on restoring the place. Work was paid for by the tours and also by renting out the castle to parties and American ghost hunting shows.
the front door
I'm usually keen on feeling the creeps, but actually didn't feel anything during the tour. Maybe it was because of the safety established by the tour, or the general lack of feeling anything but being a tourist. The only thing extraordinary was a very heavy, weighty air that filled the castle. But then, old places do tend to have weight.
Gothic art, depiction of nearby Castle Kokorin
The upper chambers were completed after the renovations in the 1500s. The height of the Knights' Hall was essentially cut in half, and the vaults are still there, with their original paintings exposed. Mostly of nearby castles and knights, the typical things in medieval works. Nothing as bizarre as what was in the chapel.
The tour ends in what was probably a cistern that collected drainage water. A door leads down into a cavern area that’s filled with evil looking wood carvings and metalworks, culminating in a huge iron throne where a doll of a red Satan sits. The room’s nickname is “Satan’s Office.”
Outside the guide asks us, “Do you have a Hell in Georgia?”
“A Hell?” I ask, thinking that the Czech word for “Hell” actually means “shoes”. But then I finally understand and say, “Yeah, yeah, of course, it’s a Christian country.”
“I understand,” he says.
Upon hindsight, I don’t think I understood. How did he understand?
a statue in the forest outside
Getting to the castle
Forget about public transit. The place is out in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is Melnik, which is about half an hour away on a poorly kept road. The road winds through thick forests and steep hills until you arrive a small collection of houses and a tavern, which is the village Blatce. The road climbs a hill up up and up and finally you arrive at Castle Houska.
Find more on Castle Houska, including events and tour information, on the webpage.