The Darvaza Gas Crater, popularly known as the ‘Door to Hell’ or ‘Gates of Hell,’ is a burning crater in Derweze, Turkmenistan, a central Asian country bordering Afghanistan and Iran.
It is named the ‘Door to Hell’ by the locals because it has been continuously burning for nearly 50 years! The site is a massive crater, about two-thirds the size of a soccer field, filled with fire, boiling mud, and orange flames.
Mysterious Origins of 'Door To Hell'
The origins of the crater are highly controversial, much like any other mystery. Some experts say that the site was discovered by Soviet engineers in 1971, who thought it to be a substantial oil field site. Engineers began drilling the land, and after a preliminary assessment, they found tons of natural gas, including methane, beneath the area. Due to the escaping nature of methane, the ground became porous and couldn’t support the weight of large drilling equipment, which resulted in the collapse of the land and the formation of a giant crater.
To prevent the spread of the toxic methane gas in the region, Soviet geologists set fire to the crater, hoping that the fire would extinguish soon as gases run it. Little did they know that the fire would continue to burn for till today.
Au contraire, local geologists say the collapse into the crater happened somewhere in the 1960s, and that pit wasn’t set on fire until the 1980s, deepening the mystery around the origins of the Door to Hell. Some people also believe that underground water movements under the Karakum Desert were the cause behind the collapse of this and two other nearby craters.
Doorway to a Different World
On July 16, 2014, explorer George Kourounis became the first person ever to set foot on the crater’s bottom. The mission was aired as an episode titled ‘Crater of Fire’ on the National Geographic series ‘Die Trying.’ Kourounis gathered samples from the pit for research into potential life, if any, beneath the burning crater.
Kourounis was also accompanied by a Hollywood stunt expert, who reportedly set him on fire a few times as a part of the training for stepping into a burning pit and not freak out.
The site is nothing less than a perfect place for shooting a fictional fantasy movie like Godzilla. An edited photograph of the crater was released as part of the publicity campaign for the 2014 Godzilla film, depicting MONARCH agents investigating the site.
In April 2010, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the President of Turkmenistan, visited the site and ordered that the crater be closed forever.
But it seems like his views have changed over time. In 2013, he declared the whole part of the Karakum Desert with the burning crater a nature reserve. In 2019, the president appeared on state television performing doughnuts (not the edible ones). He did the maneuver while driving an SUV around the crater to disprove rumors about his death.
While the officials earlier seemed set on closing the giant hole, the Turkmen government now hopes that the crater could become a popular tourist attraction and boost tourism. For now, the ‘door to hell’ seems like a golden opportunity for the country to boost its tourism and make international headlines.