Doors to Hell: Real and Imagined

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If you believe urban legends and folklore, the Earth is littered with portals, doors, gates and other forms of ingress to that fiery supernatural underworld commonly known as Hell. There was even one on my undergraduate college campus: Kenyon College's "Gates of Hell" are nothing more than twin stone edifices that demark North Campus from South Campus, but it's said that if you touch the phallic post in the middle of them at midnight, it's straight to Hell for you:

Somewhat more famously, there's also one in New Jersey (a system of drainage tunnels), though films like Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate and video games like Doom 3 portray such portals in more classical form; ie, complete with demons, licking flames, creepy music, etc.

But Door to Hell enthusiasts don't have to settle for a lousy stone post or make-believe movies anymore -- because the world-at-large recently found out about a real Door to Hell. But don't start packing an overnight bag yet, intrepid traveler; located deep in the remote desert of Darvaza in Turkmenistan, in a region difficult to obtain permission to visit, hundreds of meters from a road and ringed by dunes and rises that shield it from view, is this:2.jpg

Yep, that's a big fiery hole. And it's been burning for more than 35 years, thanks to some Russian prospectors who knocked it open, noticed it was full of poison gas and decided it would be a good idea to light a match, so that the gas could "burn off." (As you can see, that didn't work so well.)

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Measuring about 50 meters by 20 meters, it generates enough heat that you can only stand near its lip for a few minutes. Locals claim that animals are mesmerized by it, and it attracts countless moths and other insects to its flame at night, the only time it's visible from far away. Website English Russia tells the story of its discovery (somewhat charmingly) this way:

Once the geologists were drilling for gas. Then suddenly during the drilling they have found an underground cavern, it was so big that all the drilling site with all the equipment and camps got deep deep under the ground. None dared to go down there because the cavern was filled with gas. So they ignited it so that no poisonous gas could come out of the hole, and since then, it's burning, already for 35 years without any pause. Nobody knows how many tons of excellent gas has been burned for all those years but it just seems to be infinite there.

And there's even a video! Watch and be amazed:

In case you're feeling Hella intrepid, here's a Google Map of the DtH. Send us a picture of you standing next to it holding a copy of mental_floss and we'll send you a free shirt!

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Photos by John H Bradley.

April 1, 2008 - 6:25am
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