Giant Fire Pit in Desert Known as “Gates of Hell” Has Been Burning for Over 50 Years

Close View of Turkemistan's Gates of Hell Fire Crater

Photo: Stock Photos from Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

Deep in the heart of Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert, a fiery crater glows day and night. Known colloquially as the Door to Hell or Gates of Hell, this fire pit has been burning continuously for over 50 years. So what is this crater filled with fire and how did it end up in the desert? For those answers, we need to look back to Turkmenistan's history.

In 1971, back when the country was part of the Soviet Union, Soviet engineers came to the desert in search of oil fields. A drilling rig was set up to check oil quality in the area, but they quickly realized that they weren't drilling into oil at all. Instead, their heavy rig was situated on top of a large pocket of natural gas that couldn't support that immense weight and soon collapsed.

The entire camp crumbled into a giant bowl-shaped cavity called the Darvaza crater. Measuring 230 feet across and 65 feet deep, it is enormous and soon scientists had a real problem on their hands. Not only did the collapse have a ripple effect that caused other multiple craters to open up, but natural gas was rapidly escaping. As natural gas is mainly made from methane, which sucks up oxygen and makes it hard to breathe, there was a real concern not only for wildlife but also for people living in the nearby village of Derweze. In fact, these fears were warranted because not long after the collapse, animals in the desert began to die.

Darvaza Crater in the Karakum Desert

Photo: Stock Photos from Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

That's when scientists sprung into action and decided to burn off the gas, as natural gas can't be trapped. They expected the process to take a few weeks, but they were wrong—the flames have been burning ever since. In fact, scientists still don't understand how much natural gas is fueling the fire. Now, the Darvaza crater attracts hundreds of tourists a year who come to take in the strange and sinister-looking phenomenon.

In 2010, Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the crater and said that it should be closed up. And in 2013 he declared the part of the desert containing the crater a natural reserve. However, as of today, the Gates of Hell still burn brightly and at night its wicked orange glow can be seen for miles.

In the 1970s, a giant crater opened up in the Turkmenistan desert after an oil rig collapsed.

Door of Hell Crater in Turkmenistan

Photo: Stock Photos from Darkydoors/Shutterstock

The rig sat on a pocket of natural gas, which began escaping and endangered local wildlife.

Darvaza Crater at Night

Photo: Stock Photos from Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

So authorities decided to burn off the gas, thinking it would last a few weeks.

Darvaza Crater at Night

Photo: Stock Photos from Thiago B Trevisan/Shutterstock

Instead, the “Gates of Hell” has been burning for over 50 years and now hundreds flock annually to see the unusual site.

Women Facing Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan at Night

Photo: Stock Photos from Lockenes/Shutterstock

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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