If you ever find yourself in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan and then start to feel slightly hotter than you already were, you might be nearing the Gates of Hell.
Okay, so technically, the constantly burning pit, more than 200 feet wide and visible for miles in every direction, is simply called the Darvaza gas crater, after the nearby small town. But locals prefer the more infernal demonym. And it’s hard to blame them.
Who built these Gates of Hell? As with many bad things in the world, we can blame the Soviet Union. Per the always interesting Atlas Obscura:
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.”
America has its own, slightly less dramatic version of this: the perpetually burning coal-seam fire beneath the now largely (though perhaps not entirely!) abandoned town of Centralia, Penn. (Neither, to my knowledge, actually made it to hell.)
But recently, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the strongman president of Turkmenistan, called for the long-burning flame to be extinguished. Per the Daily Mail:
One of the world’s most brutal autocrats has announced that he plans to close the ‘Gates of Hell’.
Former dentist Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has ordered his ministers in reclusive Turkmenistan to find world experts who can seal off a giant crater that has been burning for half a century. . . .
The eccentric Berdimuhamedov — whose regime’s human rights record has been described as ‘dire’ — has ordered officials to stop the environmental damage caused by the constant blaze.
The health of locals is being hit by the ceaseless fire, he warned.
‘We are creating — and will continue to create — all necessary conditions for the development of the colossal hydrocarbon resources of our independent Motherland, in the interests of our people,’ he said, explaining his decision to stop the inferno.
The Mail adds that Berdimuhamedov has tried to extinguish the fire before, to no avail, and later declared it a “natural reserve.”
If he succeeds in closing the Gates of Hell, it will be slightly less cool for him to do doughnuts around it, as he has in the past.