Hi. I'm Rick Steves with more of the 'Best of Europe'. This time we're going to Hell and you're in for some hot and smoky travels. Thanks for joining us.
Hell, with its Nine Circles or levels, is located far below-ground in an obscure, less-traveled part of southern Italy. In the 14th Century, Dante Alighieri wrote that Hell "is the realm of those who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen."
In this episode, we'll visit two of the circles: Limbo, the first level, and Greed, the fourth circle. Of course, you can't get to Hell without crossing the River Styx. Many visitors overpay for the primitive but famous Charon's Ferry Service. I prefer to use the new elevated tram. It is sleek and modern, if a bit hot and uncomfortable but will save you money. Public transit is always preferable and it gives you a chance to interact with colorful locals.
When you arrive at the other side, you'll be greeted by the Gate of Hell, which bears an inscription ending with the famous phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate," most frequently translated as "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Ah, yes. It reminds me of the many Holocaust Museums I've visited during my travels. Along the river, you'll find an elegant promenade made of crushed bones from the Ninth Circle.
Walk through the gate and you'll arrive at he first circle, Limbo. Most Limbo residents are virtuous non-Christians and proud, unbaptized pagans who are punished with eternity in an inferior form of Heaven. Many live in castles, each with seven gates symbolizing the seven virtues. While called 'castles', the severe architecture of most is reminiscent of the Communist block apartments seen in Eastern Europe. Air conditioning, plumbing and other essentials work to a degree, just not very well. And many of the gates are rusty and squeak annoyingly. I prefer to stay at a hostel run by a family of goats on the other side of town.
In the morning, you may wish to climb the slope of Mt. Hades. You'll be rewarded with a commanding view. In fact, the lofty eastern cliff face is nicknamed Satan's Balcony because of the spectacular vista. Use your binoculars to get a better view of Hell's lower levels, especially those areas you'd rather look at than experience directly. Look carefully and you may catch a glimpse of a charcoal-broiled Pol Pot, pan-fried Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin boiling in oil or Fidel Castro roasting on an open fire.
Limbo's shopping district offers a delightful-to-stroll cityscape where friendly street vendors offer cool water ices to ward off the dry heat in this lively spot. In the evening, the area comes alive with people, bustling cafes and offbeat shops. Cars are discouraged here; in fact, the only rental cars available are old Yugos, Trabants and 1976 AMC Pacers.
Instead of driving, take a walking tour with an experienced guide. During your walk, you many encounter prominent people from classical antiquity such as Homer, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Hippocrates or Julius Caesar. Some will give you their autograph in exchange for cigarettes or chocolate. Such small gifts are the polite thing to do and shows that you respect local customs and culture.
Limbo is also full of unbaptized babies who have grown up without parents. Many of these uneducated and unprincipled urchins have become pickpockets and con artists who work the streets and know that tourists are easy targets. Treat any commotion (a scuffle breaking out, a beggar in your face) as fake - designed to distract unknowing victims. I recommend that you wear an asbestos money belt as I do. It's a smart precaution.
I like to travel from Limbo down to Greed using Hades' charming, old-fashioned funicular. It gives me a chance to chat with interesting damned and solicit their opinions on the best places to eat and drink. And purchase marijuana, which is legal in the enlightened Circle of Greed.
Greed is populated by the souls of people who hoarded possessions and those who lavishly spent their wealth. Many successful business owners live here, including wealthy restaurant operators and hoteliers.
Greed is a hellishly wonderful place, offering the best wining and dining of any of the circles. As you're sampling Greed's fine cuisine, don't be shy. Share a table with locals, even if some of them appear to be on fire.
There are also many tony nightclubs in this city, which bills itself as the Capital of Satanic Culture. The club district is a lively area, surrounding a charming, brimstone-paved plaza that features a mesmerizing, fire-spouting fountain at its center. During our visit, we caught an evening show featuring duets by Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. As well as a one-woman matinee performance by Tallulah Bankhead. It's a fun scene and the plaza is great for people watching.
Many of the old caves and charred ruins have been converted to offices and lofts with hip restaurants on the first level. One old building was once a factory producing graven images; it has now been converted to a farmers market offering a selection of fruits, vegetables and charred meats. Most offerings are quite tasty, although they smell somewhat sulfurous. The manufacture of graven images was first moved to a lower circle of Hell; now, all of the statues and bas-reliefs are made in China.
The Greed Circle is quite a vast metropolis; to get around, use the modern municipal tram system. Remember that this is Hell, so every streetcar is a smoking car. I purchase an Inferno Transit All-Day Pass to save money and can get on and get off the tram whenever I like at no extra charge.
Because of all its wealth, Greed is called the Zurich of Hell but, of course, it's hotter. Dress lightly. It has a wondrous cityscape offering a certain retro-charm. Turn a corner and you'll encounter a trendy, car-free, people-zone - enlivened by art galleries, upscale pubs and torture chambers on every street. As well as the usual souvenir shops selling tacky things like miniature pitchforks and devil-shaped refrigerator magnets. It's fun to explore Greed especially after dark, when the temperature drops a degree or two. But be sure to wear thick-soled shoes because the pavements can be quite fiery at times and rubber-soled footwear tends to melt.