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The History and Mystery of Yemen’s ‘Well of Hell’
Oct 20, 2021 | Atlas Obscura
Picture - The History and Mystery of Yemen’s ‘Well of Hell’

On the far western edge of Yemen, far from any cities or well-traveled roads, there’s a black mark in the desert, like a giant eye peering up from the earth. Regardless of how uncanny it looks from above, it is a natural phenomenon, a perfectly round and profoundly deep sinkhole called the Well of Barhout, or the “Well of Hell.” It’s easy to see why. Without the help of wings or long ropes, anything that disappears into this 367-foot-deep hole is not going to come out.

For centuries, sinister legends have swirled around the Well of Barhout. It’s said that visiting or even talking about it can bring bad luck. It’s also said to be a prison for uncontrollable jinn, a range of spirits that haunt Islamic mythology. The jinn, according to legend, will claim the head of anyone brave (or foolish) enough to descend to the bottom. “Yes, [locals] always told us about that,” says geologist and caver Mohammad Al-Kindi, matter-of-factly. “They also mentioned wild animals. They mentioned strange voices or people screaming below. They mentioned also that the air there is really bad. You will not be able to breathe.” But despite all those warnings, Al-Kindi says he didn’t feel any trace of fear before he recently became the first person to descend to the bottom (and come back up). His head remains attached to his body.

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