If you ever travel in Tunisia make sure you visit the small town of Matmata. It’s definitely a must-see place for tourists, which can be reached by taking a bus to Gabes and then sharing a taxi to the old town of Matmata. As you’re approaching the site you’ll think this area is isolated and abandoned as no one will be there to welcome you. It’s all because the residents live underground.
Matmata is actually a small town in southern Tunisia. It is populated by the Berbers who live in traditional underground structures also known as troglodytes. What makes these structures so exceptional is the way they were created. First of all, the locals start digging a large pit in the ground and then artificial caves are dig around the perimeter of the same pit in order these small caves to be used as rooms. Usually each crater is about two stories deep, completed with doors, staircases and openings.Forpractical reasons the nearby caves are all connected by trench-like passageways. You can already assume there are no windows around here.
This kind of housing used to hide villagers from raiders in unstable times and it gives you a pleasant room temperature throughout any season. The air bellow the ground stays cool when the weather outside is unbearably hot. In the year of 1967, heavy rains that lasted for 22 days overwhelmed these homes and the authorities quickly built an above-ground settlement. But this didn’t stop most of the people who were struck by the rains, to restore their old homes. Only a few of the familiesagreed to move in the new structures built by the authorities.
Most people go to see Matmata as a part of an organized tour and are staying just for a few hours or only for the night. The surroundings offer stunning landscapes, opportunities for taking long walks on the orange-pink desert hills or one can simply follow the dry river beds. Wherever you may go, you won’t get lost.
You’ll find the way the Berbers live their life very mind-quieting. You can even be accommodated in their homes over the night. The rooms are decorated as simple as possible.The courtyard is often painted in white but the hosts aren’t afraid to use strong colors with the chalked walls, round shelves cut directly into the walls or handmade tapestry to highlight their folklore. As a tourist, prepare to buy handicrafts or at least offer the hosts a symbolic sum if you want to take pics. Make sure you remember the next tiny fact that tourists often find unacceptable: if you’d like to stay in Matmata overnight be prepared for shared bathrooms and toilets.
However, you can always stay in the Sidi Driss Hotel which was used as a filming location for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The hotel was featured as the home of Luke Skywalker on the planet Tatooine, facts you already know if you are a Star Wars fan. The hotel is designed according to the traditional troglodyte standards of the underground building.
Matmata is indeed a popular tourist attraction but if you are not going with a tour group make sure you explore this little town in the early morning hours. That is the time when the place won’t be crowded and you’ll have the chance to catch the morning sun light which gives a dramatic appearance to the troglodytes. Unfortunately, as the hours pass and as the sun is slowly heading to West, this experience loses its strength. Anyway, don’t forget to get enough bottled water for this ‘expedition’ because the summer is very hot around here.
I guess you’re already prepared for an outstanding adventure in the Tunisian sand dunes. Matmata is waiting to be explored and it’s peeking from under the ground.