The cave city of Matmata in Tunisia
Matmata is a small town in the south of Tunisia. In some guidebooks, even the phrase "the Berber capital of Tunisia" even occurs, although Matmata should rather be called a "village", and in Tunisia there are Berber cities of much larger sizes.
Matmat became famous for the houses of the Berbers, who were not built above the ground, but dug underground. In fact, the locals live in caves carved into the walls of large pits. From this they are usually called Berber Troglodytes.
Who are troglodytes?
In Russian, the word "troglodyte" has an obvious negative emotional connotation. This word is called uncivilized people living in caves or eating everything they get to. This value has gone from the ancient Roman authors.
In most other languages, this negative connotation has not caught on with the word. Troglodytes are people who live in cave dwellings. The word is derived from the Greek roots "troglé" - a cave and "dien" - to enter, dive.
Berbers in the village of Matmata are real troglodytes, they live in cave houses.
Underground houses of Berbers
These houses have been created by local Berbers for several thousand years. The house is a large pit with a depth of 3 meters and a width of 8 to 13 meters. The pit serves as the central courtyard of the house. In the walls create caves, which serve as rooms. If relatives live next door, houses are connected by tunnels, a real labyrinth turns out. See the photo below, click on the photo to enlarge.
Guides tell a legend. Once upon a time, the Roman Empire gave this region for settlement to two Egyptian tribes who were given the right to kill anyone they met on the way. Local residents were forced to hide and began to create houses underground.
In addition to the word "nonsense", this legend can not be called. The decomposition of the primitive communal system in Egypt finally took place 3000 years before the Roman Empire.
Probably, this legend tells of a slightly different moment in the history of Tunisia. In the 11th century, the Arab dynasty of the Fatimids invaded the Arab tribes of Banu Hilal to destroy the Berbers and the Zerid rebels. For more details, see our article " History of Tunisia ".
Most sources say that these houses are being excavated. This is not entirely true, rather hollow. The soil must be hard enough so that the pit walls do not collapse for a long time, but it is also soft enough that the pit can be carved with hand tools.
For example, if such a house is excavated in the soil in the central strip of Russia, then it will not last more than a year, the walls will collapse or the pit will be flooded. Under the village of Matmata, a soft sandstone, it fits perfectly. Even in Tunisia there are not so many places where such houses can be created.
These houses were not known to the general public until 1967, when an incredible natural phenomenon happened - the rainy rains were going on for 22 consecutive days. Many homes just collapsed, and residents turned to the authorities for help. Then the name "Matmata" became known not only in Tunisia, but throughout the world. Residents were helped, moved to classical land houses. However, many still live in cavemen-pits, they earn on services to tourists.
In Matmata, there are now two districts - Matmata Jadila (Novaya) and Matmat Kadima (Staraya). Underground houses are in the old part of the settlement.
What tourists see
The main (and only) local attraction is a display of the life and lifestyle of the Berbers. Tourists descend into the house, they can see the rooms, furniture and utensils. From traditional studies show the grinding of grain, cooking couscous, weaving carpets, cooking flat Berber bread. This bread can be tasted, especially tasty it is considered in combination with honey or date syrup.
Do not forget that all this will be shown only with good organization of the excursion and with a good guide.
Hotel Sidi Driss (Sidi Driss)
In 1976, in Tunisia, the shooting of the film "Star Wars. Episode 4: A New Hope. " In one of the subterranean houses of Matmata, they set up the set. Here, the scenes were shot in the house of Owen Lars (uncle Luke Skywalker).
After filming, the owner of the house removed most of the scenery, some threw it away. Then the film did not become ultra-popular, now he would become a millionaire, just selling these scenery.
In 1995, a French fan of "Star Wars" named Philip Vanni restored almost all the scenery. In 2000, there were another shootings already "Episode II: Attack of the Clones".
The location of the shootings was transformed into the hotel Sidi Driss (in the photo next, click on the photo to enlarge). Now this hotel consists of 5 underground Berber houses connected by tunnels. 4 of them with rooms for guests, the fifth - a restaurant. There are 20 rooms in total, the hotel can accommodate up to 145 guests.
Reserve a room in the hotel Sidi Driss is problematic. At the moment (note: this article was written in 2018), no booking site on the Internet gives such an opportunity. The only option is to book by phone +216 75 240 005. Not always the hotel staff speak English, it is better to ask someone to call someone who speaks French.
An important point - intrusive Berbers!
The Berbers in Matmata live at the expense of tourism and tourists. The village is full of residents, intrusively sticking to tourists. These people are invited to their underground homes, show their daily life and are required to pay for it, they demand money for a photo. Most tourists are madly annoyed.
If you came with an excursion group, then stick to your guide. He will lead to the right house, show and tell everything.
If you come alone, you can use the services of local residents and see one of the houses, but negotiate the price in advance. Nobody speaks Russian here, but they speak English a little.
How to get there
Getting to Matmata is easiest with excursion, but it is possible both by public transport, and by taxi, and by a rented car.
Bus or minibus
Buses and minibuses to Matmata go only from the city of Gabes. Accordingly, from any resort in Tunisia, you first need to get to Gabes. Map of resorts, see our " Map of the resorts of Tunisia ", the city of Gabes on our map is indicated.
From the city of Zarzis or from the island of Djerba to Gabes can only be reached by intercity bus, it is easier to travel from the northern resorts by train. Read our articles " Buses in Tunisia " and " Trains in Tunisia ".
Arriving in Gabes, catch a taxi and ask the driver to drive to "Lyazh stasyon", this is the central city bus station. The drivers of the minibuses shout loudly at the destination station, look for such a driver shouting the word "Matmat". Or ask drivers with the word "Matmat", they will show the required minibus. Then you need to wait until the minibus is full, and after 1.5 hours you will be in Matmata.
The way by public transport is very long and tedious. From Suss or El-Kantaoui, you will have to travel 4.5 hours by train, then transfer and waiting for a minibus, then another 2 hours to Matmata, for a total of about 8 hours. From Hammamet , Yasmin or Nabel even longer - about 9 hours.
We do not recommend this method, except to go to Matmata with an overnight stay. Public transport to Matmata is convenient only in one case - if you have a rest in one of the Gabes hotels.
Taxi or transfer
You can order a transfer through the Internet or talk with taxi drivers who are happy to organize a trip.
Holidaymakers in the resorts of northern Tunisia must first reach Gabes, as we discussed above.
Between Gabes and Matmata about 45 kilometers, the trip will cost 50-100 dinars, as if you are making money. The current course of the Tunisian Dinar can be found on our page " Tunisian Dinar ".
From the island of Djerba can be reached for 100-200 dinars (170 km), from Zarzis for 90-180 dinars (140 km).
You reach Gabes, then along C107 to the south about 45 kilometers.
A visit to Matmata is mandatory in all programs "Excursion to the Sahara". Usually, they come here on the first day, after visiting El Jem .
For guests of the island of Djerba and the resort of Zarzis, one-day excursion "Matmata-Duz" is available, which is much more convenient. The price is 80-100 USD.
If the tour is organized qualitatively, then a group of tourists lead to one of the underground houses, show the life of the Bedouin, give time to take a picture and walk around the village for a bit, show the hotel where the film "Star Wars" was shot.
If the tour is organized badly, then simply lead the village, show the underground houses only from above.
Where to sleep
Hotel Sidi Driss - the most colorful place for spending the night, in detail we talked about it above. It is worth adding that the bathrooms are joint, and berber beds can seem small and uncomfortable.
The Matmata Hotel is the largest in the area. Tourist groups often stay overnight. Rooms with air conditioning, in the courtyard there is a swimming pool. Book online is almost impossible. Call us on +216 75 240 015.
Tips for tourists
- Matmata is in the south of the country, it can be very hot in the summer, read our review " Weather in Tunisia ". We put on comfortable and well-worn shoes, light light clothing and do not forget about protecting the skin from the sun. We discussed all this in detail in the article " What to take to Tunisia ";
- Take water with you - a lot of water - how much will fit in backpacks, take as much as you can;
- In Matmata and other places along the route "Excursion to the Sahara" they sell dates and many other souvenirs. We do not advise you to buy, the prices are high, you can buy more cheaply in the nearest large store. Read our reviews " What tourists are driving from Tunisia " and " Shopping in Tunisia without cheating ";
- We always have to go to Matmata early, we recommend to go to bed early before the excursion.
Good mood and pleasant impressions of the underground houses of Matmata, and read our interesting articles about Tunisia ( links below ).
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