Gates of hell
The gates of hell are various locations on the surface of the world that have acquired a legendary reputation for being entrances to the underworld. Often they are found in regions of unusual geological activity, particularly volcanic areas, or sometimes at lakes, caves or mountains.
Legends from both ancient Greece and Rome record stories of mortals who entered or were abducted into the netherworld through such gates. The god Hades kidnapped the Goddess Persephone from a field in Sicily and led her to the underworld through a cleft in the earth so he could marry her. Orpheus traveled to the Greek underworld in search of Eurydice by entering a cave at Taenarum or Cape Tenaron on the southern tip of the Peloponnese. Hercules entered the Underworld from this same spot. Both Aeneas and Odysseus also visited the underworld. The former entered the region through a cave at the edge of Lake Avernus on the Bay of Naples; the latter through Lake Acheron in northwest Greece.
Located in the middle of the Roman Forum is another entrance, Lacus Curtius, where according to a medieval legend, a Roman soldier, named Curtius, bravely rode his horse into the entrance in a successful effort to close it, although both he and his horse perished in the deed. Into the medieval period Mount Etna on Sicily was considered to be an entryway to hell, and during this period Icelanders believed their own Mount Hekla was also a gateway. The most famous of medieval gateways, however, was St Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg, County Donegal, Ireland.
In China, Fengdu has a long history in the Taoist tradition of being a portal to hell. In Nicaragua there are two sites with this reputation. Hellam township near York, Pennsylvania, has the problematic reputation of being the home of the Seven Gates of Hell. In Derweze, Turkmenistan a burning natural gas fire in the middle of the Karakum Desert is known as the Door to Hell.
The gates in popular culture
In August 2010, the History Channel premiered a show entitled "The Gates of Hell," (History Specials: Gates of Hell (Season 1, Episode 105) which visited caves and volcanoes in Nicaragua, Belize, Greece, Iceland, Ireland and Ethiopia, to examine the origins of these myths. It featured archaeologists, scholars, explorers and others working in this field.
- The Marvels of Rome (NewYork: Italica Press, 1986).
- Eileen Gardiner, The Pilgrim's Way to St. Patrick's Purgatory (New York: Italica Press, 2010).