The Gates of Hell: Forever-Burning Crater of Poison

Turkmenistan is known for its offbeat tourist attractions, but one of the most unusual is the hole in the ground known as The Gates of Hell. The hole, an impressive 230 feet across, is filled with leaping flames that have been lighting up the area for 40 years.

Those looking for supernatural meanings could certainly come up with many to describe this surreal site. The actual origin of this oddity, however, is far more mundane. In 1971, a group of geologists drilling in the Darvaza area accidentally punched through the rock to a deposit of natural gas. The ground crumbled and fell away beneath the drilling equipment.

Since methane is considered dangerous when released into the atmosphere, the geologists decided to light the hole on fire and burn the methane off. They clearly expected it to be a simple, short-lived fire that would burn itself out within days. It was anything but simple.

Now, four decades later, the fire burns on. Looking into the pit, it is easy to understand how it got its name. It almost feels like stepping into this fiery abyss will take you directly to the devil’s lair. The massive deposits of methane below the entire field simply continue burning while curious travelers often make their way to the dangerous location with the sole purpose of peering into the bizarre burning hole.

In 2010 the Turkmenistan government decided that something should be done about the crater. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered the hole covered up and the other gas deposits in the area explored for their mining viability. As of press time more than a year later, the crater continues to burn 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

(top image via Wikipedia – all other images via Atlas Obscura)
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