The president of Turkmenistan hopes to extinguish a massive fiery crater, dubbed the ‘Gates of Hell,’ which has been burning for decades and has become one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov reportedly issued the decree this past Saturday, explaining that the inferno’s output “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby.” He also argued that “we are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well being of our people.” As such, Berdymukhamedov told officials in the country to figure out a way to finally snuff out the fire.
The origins of the monstrous chasm and its iconic inferno are murky at best with legend stating that it was accidentally created in the 1970s by Russian miners hoping to extract natural gas from the area. That version of events is now doubted by researchers, who believe that the crater probably formed sometime in the 1960s. Although it has been burning continuously for several decades, how and when the fire started remains a mystery. Be that as it may, it has become a genuine landmark which draws visitors from all over the world to Turkmenistan.
Before one sheds a tear for the tourist attraction, the fate of the ‘Gates of Hell’ is far from certain as this is actually the second time that Berdymukhamedov has called for the fire to be extinguished. Back in 2010, he issued a similar order to experts in the country, but the effort clearly failed as the inferno continues to burn to this day. With that in mind, there is a strong possibility that the authoritarian leader’s wishes will once again be thwarted by the mysterious fiery chasm.
The “Gates of Hell”
The Darvaza gas crater, known locally as the “Door to Hell” or ”Gates of Hell”, is a natural gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan, that collapsed into an underground cavern, becoming a natural gas crater. Geologists set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas, and it has been burning continuously since 1971. The diameter of the crater is 69 metres (226 ft), and its depth is 30 metres (98 ft).
The crater is a popular tourist attraction. Since 2009, 50,000 tourists have visited the site. The gas crater has a total area of 5,350 m2. The surrounding area is also popular for wild desert camping.
The gas crater is located near the village of Derweze, also known as Darzava. It is in the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 260 kilometres (160 mi) north of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. The gas reserve found here is one of the largest in the world. The name “Door to Hell” was given to the field by the locals, referring to the fire, boiling mud, and orange flames in the large crater, which has a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft). The hot spots range over an area with a width of 60 metres (200 ft) and to a depth of about 20 metres (66 ft).
According to Turkmen geologist Anatoly Bushmakin, the site was identified by Soviet engineers in 1971. It was originally thought to be a substantial oil field site. The engineers set up a drilling rig and operations to assess the quantity of oil available at the site. Soon after the preliminary survey found a natural gas pocket, the ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater and was buried.
Expecting dangerous releases of poisonous gases from the cavern into nearby towns, the engineers thought it best to burn the gas off. It was estimated that the gas would burn out within a few weeks, but it has instead continued to burn for more than four decades.
In April 2010, the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed. In 2013, he declared the part of the Karakum Desert with the crater a nature reserve.
The crater was featured in a Die Trying episode titled “Crater of Fire”. Explorer George Kourounis became the first person to ever set foot at the bottom, gathering samples of extremophile microorganisms. The episode was broadcast on the National Geographic Channel on July 16, 2014.
Camping on the edge of the “Gates of Hell”