Gates of Hell: The Darvaza Gas Crater

The Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan is known to locals as the Gates of Hell. (Image: Tormod Sandtorv. Darvaza gas crater, known as the Gates of Hell)

It could be the scene of the final showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. But this desert inferno rages in a galaxy far closer to home. In the sparse Karakum Desert of Central Asia is a crater 230 feet in diameter, which was been on fire for almost half a century. As Atlas Obscura reports, the hole is known to locals as the “Gates of Hell”.

Visitors to the Door to Hell in the Karakum Desert report "mixed emotions", including spiritual experiences. (Image: Tormod Sandtorv. Visitors to the site report “mixed emotions”)

In a landscape as remote and inhospitable as the Karakum Desert, the Gates of Hell cast an eerie glow that can be seen for miles around. But this fearsome oddity, which is 100 feet deep and located near the village of Darvaza, in Turkmenistan, isn’t entirely natural.

(Image: Stefan Krasowski)

The Door to Hell, as the crater is also known, was “opened” in 1971 by Soviet geologists seeking to harness the region’s extensive oil and natural gas deposits. When the scientists tapped into the cavern of natural gas outside Darvaza, the ground collapsed beneath them, swallowing their drilling rig whole.

The Darvaza gas crater, ignited by Soviet scientists drilling for natural gas in 1971. (Image: Stefan Krasowski)

In a bid to stymie the possible release of toxic fumes, the Soviets started a fire that they hoped would burn off the gas within a few days and avert an environmental catastrophe. But almost 50 years later, the blaze continues to rage, putting the nearby village of 350 inhabitants – around 160 miles from the capital Ashgabat – firmly on the map.

The Gates of Hell have burned for almost 50 years. (Image: flydime)

According to the Mail Online in 2012: “In April 2010 the country’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed but this is yet to happen.” Two years later, National Geographic published a Q&A with the first person to descend into the Gates of Hell.

The Door to Hell (Image: Tormod Sandtorv. The “Door to Hell” in Turkmenistan)

The crater is now part of a nature reserve and is a well-known regional tourist attraction. Adventurers and eco-tourists have reportedly flocked to the site in their thousands. The area around it is also popular for wild camping. CTV News reported that visitors felt “mixed emotions” at the site. One person said: “It takes your breath away. “You immediately think of your sins and feel like praying.”

(Image: Stefan Krasowski)

The Karakum Desert lies south of the Aral Sea and east of the Caspian. The area covers much of present-day Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country that is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Rough camping at the Darvaza gas crater. (Image: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen. Rough camping at the Darvaza gas crater)

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