Surrounded in mystery and tales of demons, the Well of Barhout in Yemen’s east, near the Oman border- known as the “Well of Hell” – is a little-understood natural wonder.
Closer to the border with Oman than to the capital Sanaa 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away, the giant hole in the desert of Al-Mahra province .The gigantic hole in the ground is 30 meters wide and, according to preliminary estimates, 100 to 250 meters deep.
Local folklore says it was created as a prison for the demons – a reputation bolstered by the foul odors rising from its depths.
Even Yemeni officials themselves do not know what is in the well. “It’s very deep – we haven’t reached the bottom of this well yet – because there’s little oxygen and no ventilation,” said Salah Babhair, director general of Mahra’s geography and minerals office.
We went to explore the area and entered the well, which reaches more than 50-60 meters. We noticed strange things inside. We also felt something strange. This is a mysterious situation – he added.
Since the sunlight does not reach very far from the hole, little can be seen from the very end. The exceptions are birds, which occasionally fly out of the well, to fly back into the dark after a while. “This area still needs a lot of research,” Salah Babhair said.
Videographers seeking close-ups of the inside of the well have said they are almost impossible to capture – local superstition has it that objects near the hole can be sucked towards it.
Babhair said that the well was “millions and millions” of years old. “These places require more study, research, and investigation,” he said.
Over the centuries, stories have circulated of malign, supernatural figures known as jinns or genies living in the well.
Many local residents remain uneasy about visiting the vast hole, or even talking about it, for fear of ill-fortune from a chasm which, legend has it, threatens life on Earth itself.
Now, for what is thought to be the first time, humans have explored this well, and while they did not find any genies trapped in there, they did find cave pearls, various dead animals, and snakes.
The feat was carried out by the Oman Cave Exploration Team (OCET), a team of eight expert cavers who descended the 112 meters (367 feet) from the well’s opening, which stretches 30 meters (100 feet) across, down to its depths.
Yemeni authorities estimate that the sinkhole formed “millions and millions” of years ago, and before this team, nobody had reached the bottom. Previous explorations have reached down to about half the depth and reported bad smells coming from the bottom (it’s unclear whether that was the reason they went no further). The newest exploration didn’t reveal any particular noxious smells, although they did report that the dead birds were pretty smelly.
So, why would anyone want to travel to the depths of something known as the “Well of Hell”?
“Passion drove us to do this, and we felt that this is something that will reveal a new wonder and part of Yemeni history,” Mohammed al-Kindi, a geology professor at the German University of Technology in Oman and part of the expedition team, told AFP. “We collected samples of water, rocks, soil, and some dead animals but have yet to have them analyzed.”
The team reports that the snakes were not particularly aggressive and they did not appear threatened by the unexpected human visitors. The footage captured doesn’t show any of the slithering critters but it does show some beautiful cave formations. Water dripping to the bottom of a cave can create all sorts of interesting structures including so-called cave pearls.
The cave pearls spotted here were reportedly lime green. Made mainly of calcite, they are concentrations of calcium salts around a nucleus like a grain of sand, similar to how an oyster pearl forms. And just like regular pearls, they are organized in concentric layers.
That’s because a sphere allows for the greatest amount of deposition for the smallest surface. Their glossiness is due to moving water, keeping them nice and smooth. Once dry, they tend to just degrade.
A full report on the findings from the materials collected from the bottom of the well is expected soon. In the meantime, here’s hoping no angry djinns, cross at being woken from their slumber, decide retribution is in order for disturbing their peace.