Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell” Fire pit Sparks Global Interest

Is it a physical manifestation of Dante’s threshold to the underworld or a less mythopoetic scientific wonder?

Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell” might be the most bizarre of global phenomena. Situated in the middle of the Karakum desert near the village of Deweze, the 230 foot sink hole of burning rock and gas has been active for over 40 years. Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most isolated countries and has extremely tight visa restrictions, allowing only between 12,000-15,000 tourists each year. It has the “Door to Hell” to attract people from abroad, with an outreach of hundreds per year, even though the country’s president demanded it be filled in 2010.

The history of the discovery starts with the country’s desire to mine for resources. In 1971, when Turkmenistan was still part of the Soviet Union, a team of Soviet geologists set up a drilling platform to search for natural gas reserves. The weight of the drilling platform caused the site to collapse, revealing the massive sink-hole underneath. Fearing the spread of poisonous methane gas seeping from the ground, the geologists set the crater on fire hoping that all the gas would burn away in a few weeks’ time. The site has been consistently active ever since.

Tourist Adrian Moffatt commented on the danger in the beauty of the “Door to Hell.” ‘The crater is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. However, the pit is not fenced off and there is a risk that the sandy soil can crumble away near the edges.’

Located about 160 miles north of the capital, Ashgabat, there are no road signs to the crater, rendering the idea of any self-guided tour almost impossible.  One can satisfy his or her own superstitions or scientific persuasions by choosing to invoke the muse, or schedule a guided tour.