Turkmenistan’s 'Gates of Hell' Now Attracting Tourists, Spiders

The gas crater has been ablaze for over 40 years.

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Aug 11 2015, 6:59pm

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and this is definitely the case with the Darvaza Gas Crater. A gigantic, eternally-burning pit in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert, it is known colloquially as the "Gates of Hell."

Dylan Thuras takes us through the history of this fiery hellmouth as part of Atlas Obscura's "100 Wonders" series. In 1971, Soviet geologists were drilling for oil when they accidentally set up a rig over an enormous cavern of natural gas. The rig punched through the earth and the desert floor collapsed, taking the rig with it.

The newly-formed crater was now leaking methane gas, so the Soviets decided to set the cavern ablaze and let the gas burn itself off. Big mistake. Over 40 years later, the crater is still burning.

A few years ago, the Turkmen president said he wanted to seal off the crater. But the Gates are actually starting to attract tourists, which is a boon to a country with a usually tiny tourism industry.

That's not all the Gates are attracting, though. Reportedly, spiders are drawn to the crater's light and heat, and dive right into the pit. "Presumably, they are trying to reunite themselves with their dark lord," says Thuras. You took the words right out of my mouth.