Strange lands: the eternally-burning fires of Central Asia

Joe Worthington

written by
Joe Worthington

updated 25.03.2020

In far-off lands, largely undiscovered by travellers today, there are fires eternally burning; some natural and some man-made. These impressive fire craters can be found across Central Asia, fed by the vast oil reserves that lie beneath this region. They’ve featured in both local folklore and Hollywood movies as the entrances to Hell.

If you’re brave enough to risk meeting the devil at one of these give, then you are almost guaranteed to have a great big bonfire all to yourself.

“The Door to Hell” in Derweze, Turkmenistan

Locally referred to as “the door to hell”, the Derweze fire crater has been, until recently, off-limits to man for over 45 years. This gigantic flaming hole in the arid Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan would be more at home in a big-budget science fiction blockbuster than in the back garden of one of the world’s least-explored countries.

The impressive flaming crater first appeared in 1971 when Soviet geologists drilled an oil test well in the area; little did they expect the oil rig to collapse and a 70 metre hole to engulf their equipment. The geologists decided to burn off the oil to prevent future explosions and the fires have been burning ever since.


© JoostP/Shutterstock

The Derweze site lies in a tiny village of 350 people, a 162 mile off-road self-drive across rocky desert terrain. Other than the village, there is no sign of civilisation within a day’s driving distance. Adding to the desolate feel, the Aral Sea – with its eerie abandoned rusting ships – lies to the north.

“Burning Mountain” in Yanar Dag, Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan – nicknamed the “land of fire” – the Yanar Dag (translated as “Burning Mountain”), is a flaming hill. Legend says that the hill, where highly flammable gas continuously seeps through the surface, was accidentally set alight by a shepherd in the 1950s. Now the hill’s flames reach up to three metres tall throughout the year, all visible from the capital, Baku.

Locals bathe in the warm spring waters across the hillside, which can also be ignited with a match as they are full of sulphur. The spooky glow across the hills at night attracts Zoroastrians from across the world, who come to the area to worship. Nearby, mud volcanoes dot the landscape and erupt regularly, spurting mud balls high into the air.


© Shevchenko Andrey/Shutterstock

“Flaming Stone” in Yanartaş, Turkey

Just outside of the popular Turkish tourist resort of Antalya, near the Olympos Valley, vents in the rocky mountains spurt out fire in every direction.

At night, and especially in the winter months, the dark skies create the best environment to see the small craters in the mountainside to spurt out fires; some lasting for seconds, and others for days.

Many people visit the “flaming stone” to see the majestic ruins of the Temple of Hephasistos located at the foot of the mountains, and to sample traditional Turkish tea brewed by locals on the mountain fires.


© M Selcuk Oner/Shutterstock

“Fire on Biblical Proportions” in Baba Gurgur, Iraq

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, just outside of the city of Kirkuk, the world’s second largest oil field surrounds an eternal fire pit. The deep fire crater has been burning for thousands of years and is believed to be the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.

Women sometimes visit Baba Gurgur to ask the fires to allow them to conceive a baby boy; thought to date back to a time when the Kurdish people worshipped fire.

The nearby city of Kirkuk, with its 5000-year-old citadel ruins, remnants of the ancient city of Arrapha, makes for an interesting visit. Kirkuk lies some 147 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and Baba Gurgur is just a short walk out of the city. As the area is an operational oil field, many sections are fenced off and there’s a tight security presence.


© knovakov/Shutterstock

The fire temple of Ateshgah of Baku, Azerbaijan

Just a short walk from central Baku stands a seventeenth-century stone temple, at the centre of which a fire has burned almost-continuously since it was built. The flames were once fed by a natural gas field located directly beneath the temple, but exploitation of this resource led to the fire being extinguished in 1969. It has since been replaced by mains gas, and is burning again today.

The fire is believed to have been first lit as a shrine for local Zoroastrian fire worshippers, and as a Hindu pilgrimage site, but today is a protected historical reserve.


© Oleksii Liebiediev/Shutterstock

Top image © Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

See more of our weird and wonderful world with this gallery of strange and surreal places. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Joe Worthington

written by
Joe Worthington

updated 25.03.2020

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