As society advances people seem more and more drawn to the sky and build their homes higher and higher, but you’ll be surprised to know somewhere in Africa some people choose to live underground.
In Tunisia, 450 km south of the capital of Tunis, lies the small but impressive village of Matmata, the largest community of troglodytes (people who live in caves) in the world. The name Matmata comes from the Berber tribe that lives in this area of the country.
The history of how and why this place was first built is unknown but instead there are many stories regarding its beginnings. The most popular one says Matmata was born a long time ago, shortly after the Punic Wars, when the Romans sent two Egyptian tribes to the region and gave them permission to slaughter the locals and make the land their own. The original inhabitants left their homes and fled to the desert where they built new ones into the ground. They would leave their well disguised homes at night and attack the invaders until they managed to drive them away.
Other stories say this ancient settlement was born 700 hundred years ago when the people just couldn’t handle the burning sun. The whole village turned into an underground labyrinth where the homes were linked through intricate tunnels. The temperature inside one of these troglodyte homes remains constantly between 20-22 degrees Celcius during both summer and winter.
One of the most amazing things about Matmata is that although it has been around for at least 1000 years, no one even knew it existed until 1967 when heavy rain flooded the troglodytes’ homes and they were forced to send a delegation to ask the authorities for help. Many underground houses collapsed but with the help of the state, new surface residences were built. Now there are only around 100 dug-homes but they are enough to draw in hundreds of tourists from all around the world, every day.
View of Matmata
Now you might say to your self: “this place looks familiar”, and if you are a Star Wars fan, you would be right. This is the place where George Lucas shot the scenes set on planet Tatooine where Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru used to live. In fact if you’re interested in experiencing the troglodyte way of life you can rent a room at the Sidi Driss hotel, it’s surprisingly comfortable and it has served as a set in the science-fiction blockbuster.
If you’re interested in troglodyte settlements you might want to read about the underground city of Cobber Peddy, in the Australian outback.