The Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan

gate to hell lava opening

The Darvaza gas crater fiery glow into the night sky

Photo by Benjamin Goetzinger, CC BY-SA 4.0

Around 260 kilometers north of Turkmenistan’s capital city, Darvaza, lies a devilish view. A circular depression opens up in the middle of the surrounding desert and visitors are greeted by the sight of leaping flames, boiling mud, and the burning smell of ancient history.

The phenomenon goes by several names: The Gates of Hell, the Door to Hell, or as the locals call it, Shining of the Karakum (Garagum ýalkymy). The rest of the world technically refers to it as the Darvaza gas crater, but that’s not nearly as fun.

What is the Darvaza gas crater?

The Darvaza gas crater at night with gas pocket fires glowing inside

Photo by Stefan Krasowski, CC BY 2.0

While some might think it’s a demon door, set alight by Lucifer himself, scientists are positive it’s a natural gas field that collapsed into a cavern many decades ago.

The leading theory is that in 1971, Soviet scientists were convinced the area was full of oil and gas to be extracted. So, as people do, they built a drilling rig and started digging.

At some point soon after, the entire thing collapsed, luckily with no reported casualties. The cavern likely started spurting out huge amounts of formerly trapped natural gas, slowly poisoning the surrounding area.

The theory goes that the Soviet geologists then lit the deposit on fire, in the expectation all of the gas would burn off in a few weeks.

And yet, here we are more than 50 years later, and the Gate of Hell is still burning strong!

The Darvaza gas crater today

A man standing with arms outstretched in front of the Darvaza gas crater

Photo by Tormod Sandtorv, CC BY 2.0

Having a giant gaping pit of burning hellfire in your desert might not be to every country’s delight, but since the surrounding area is a somewhat popular camping destination, this only added fuel to the fire of mystique in the area.

In addition to the Christian nightmare, there are also two other somewhat related tourist attractions in the area, the creatively titled Water Crater and the Mud Crater.

Back in 2010, the former President of the country, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, ordered the crater needs to be closed. Apparently not in a rush, in 2019 he appeared on state television doing doughnuts in a car.

Why?

To prove the rumors of his death incorrect, of course. I’m not sure how else one would do that.

Lastly, in January of 2022, an official commission was created to find a permanent solution to exterminate the fiery gateway. Their mission is to douse the fire or at least find a way to negate the negative impacts on the environment.

If they don’t achieve this goal, will there be hell to pay?


J.J. Pryor

Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

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