Avernus or Lago d’Averno is a lake of Campania, Italy. To be more precise, it is an old volcanic crater 2 km (1.2 mi) in circumference which has been filled with water at least since Roman times.

Lake Avernus or lago d'Averno

Lake Avernus or lago d’Averno

In ancient times it was surrounded by dense forests, and was the centre of many legends.

It was represented as the entrance by which both Odysseus and Aeneas descended to the infernal regions, the entrance to Hades.

It was also thought to be the abode of the Cimmerii – an ancient people of the far north or west of Europe, first spoken of by Homer who describes them as living in perpetual darkness.

It was also believed that all birds flying over lake Avernus were destined to fall dead because of the toxic fumes that mouths of the crater gave off into the atmosphere. It is unclear whether the lake actually was as deadly as its reputation held it to be – it certainly holds no fears for birds today.

Despite the alleged dangers of the lake, the Romans were happy to settle its shores, on which villas and vineyards were established. In fact, general Hannibal visited the lake in 214 BC.

The lake was owned by the Bourbon rulers of Naples and ceded in 1750 to an aristocratic family which sold up in 1991 to the Cardillo family. In 2010 the lake was confiscated by the police after the owner was accused of being a mafia frontman.