The Underground Homes of Matmata, Tunisia
- 6 months ago
A lot of communities around the world, particularly those in hot climates, traditionally live in caves to escape the heat. The Berbers of Matmata, a small village in southern Tunisia, do so too. However, unlike most underground dwellings, the homes in Matmata are not built on the side of the mountains. Instead, they are created by digging a large pit in the ground, and then around the sides of the pit caves are dug to be used as rooms. The open pit functions as a courtyard, and are sometimes connected to other “pit” courtyards nearby through trench-like passageways forming a large underground maze
Matmata and a handful of similar towns across Tunisia are situated on a shelf of sandstone that is soft enough to excavate with hand tools, but sturdy enough to provide homes for centuries. The Berbers have been digging out homes in the ground this way for more than a thousand years.
The Matmata Plateau, where these kind of dwellings are found, lies next to a narrow corridor which is the only land path between Libya and Tunisia. This region has been overrun by invaders throughout history, forcing the Berbers to retreat to the plateau where they began to dig homes high in the mountains. Later, as relations with the Arab invaders grew friendlier, the Berbers began to feel more secure, and many moved downwards and developed villages and homes in the lowers slopes of the mountain and later on the plains.
Today, these cave dwellings are a major tourist attraction.
Matmata has another claim to fame—it was one of the location for the filming of Star Wars. The home of Luke Skywalker is actually an underground hotel named Sidi Driss.