Cut into the side of the mountains of southern Tunisia, you will find Matmata, a collection of houses made from caves called “troglodyte”. Nestled underground, the city still plays home to more than two thousand people, who have decorated and preserved this ancient society in all its splendor.
Matmata was created by digging into the stone hillside and hollowing caves out of the rock. Each house in the village was created by scraping away shavings or rock, bit by bit until the houses were formed. Each pit, with its multiple rooms, became an individual house, with the houses themselves gathered together in a secluded community.
This village was first built in order to avoid the massacre promised by invading Roman and Egyptian soldiers. The locals left their villages and made their home in the caves, where they remained largely unknown until the middle of the twentieth century, and only then because the people of the village had to appeal to the local government to help repair homes that had been damaged by intense flooding.
While it is still a functioning city, with the majority of the male population leaving for a large part of the year to work in nearby olive groves, it is also a huge draw for tourists, who are fascinated by the beauty and uniqueness of the community.
The society that has developed underground is very different from the ones above ground, simply because it had to be. The animals, family structure, and culture are all very different from any of the surrounding communities.
Created partially out of necessity and partially to take advantage of what little refuge they could find, Matmata is special. Though this part of Tunisia can be very hot during the summer months, inside the city, it is cool and clean, with both modern conveniences and old-world charm.
If you are looking for a unique destination, visit Matmata and experience the beautiful architecture, the innovative houses, and the friendly culture.
Natalie is a freelance travel writer born in Belgium and living in the USA. She has traveled to 40-plus countries and lived on four continents. She loves experiencing new places, soaking up their art, food, and culture. When she’s not writing, Natalie is probably reading, gaming or sipping a mojito at a local bar and planning her next trip.