Travel to Matmata – The city of the Troglodytes
Located 40 kilometres from the sea, Matmata is a small village in southern Tunisia. The village is famous for its troglodyte architecture and distinctive underground dwellings which are used even today by some of its inhabitants. Today, Matmata is a well-known tourist attraction with its handicraft exhibitions.
Matmata has become a popular stopping point en route between Djerba and Tozeur since the making of the Star Wars movies took place here where its troglodyte houses were featured.
Matmata is located on the South-eastern coast of Tunisia at 400 kilometres from Tunis and 20 kilometres from the town of Gabes. Matmata has a small population; mainly the Berbers which occupied it for a long time. It is believed that Matmata was populated for about 700 years.
The history of Matmata is not known, except from tales carried from generation to generation. It is said that underground homes were first built in ancient times when the Roman empire sent two Egyptian tribes to make their own homes in the Matmata region after one of the Punic wars; The dwellers of the region had to leave their homes and to dig caves in the ground to hide from those invaders, but they left their underground shelters in the night to attack invaders, which appeared to be very effective in sending the killer groups away from Matmata. A myth was made those days, that monsters emerge from beneath the ground and kill land usurpers. In any case, the underground settlements remained hidden in very hostile area for centuries and no one had any knowledge of their existence until 1967.
The way of survival in those severe conditions was difficult: since Tunisia is famous for massive olive oil production, the men went searching for work north of the villages every spring when the olive season began, getting back home in autumn when the season was over. They were usually paid in olive oil, which they traded for other goods (in present days for money), and thus provided enough food, clothes and other things for normal life for their families.
The most popular activity in Matmata is a tour of the traditional troglodyte dwelling; located around the village, many are still inhabited by local families and are open to tourists. These homes are created by digging a crater and enlarging it into artificial caves as rooms. Usually each crater is two stories deep, complete with doors, staircases and rooms with no windows. Most of these pits and craters are camouflaged in the desert surroundings. These invisible villages were first mentioned in the 4th century. There is also the Hotel Sidi Driss which is famous for being the scene where the Lars homestead in Star Wars was filmed. The Hotel opened in 1968 and is at the centre of the town. There is also a small museum behind the Hotel Sidi Driss, displaying local history. Matmata’s Handicraft Centre is another attraction in Matmata where travallers can pick a typical local Oudhref carpet.
For activities, visitors to Matmata can take a camel safari into the desert and to the stone village of Tamezret.
- Discover troglodyte houses.
- Enjoy camel safaris in the desert.
- Visit Star Wars film locations.