In the hot, expansive Karakum desert in Turkmenistan, near the 350-person village of Darvaza, is a hole 230 feet wide that has been on fire for over 50 years. Though technically called the Darvaza gas crater, locals know the crater as “The Gates of Hell.” Its fiery glow can be seen for miles around.
The Gates of Hell crater was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.
To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”
Amazingly, despite the crater’s foreboding name and ever-present flames, people still trek into the desert to witness the site in all its blazing glory. The nearby desert has become a popular place for wild camping.
But the fate of the burning crater may be in limbo. In January 2022, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered the government of Turkmenistan to begin researching how to put the fire out.
The Atlas Obscura Podcast is a short, daily celebration of all the world’s strange and wondrous places. Check out this episode about the Gates of Hell.