In the remote landscapes of southern Tunisia lies a hidden gem that transcends the boundaries of conventional architecture and invites visitors to step back in time. Troglodyte houses in Matmata are a unique form of architecture that dates back centuries (since Phoenician times) and are still inhabited by locals today. The Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings, with their unique underground structures, provide a fascinating glimpse into a lifestyle that has endured for centuries. Carved into the earth, these dwellings have not only weathered the test of time but have also become an emblematic symbol of the region’s rich history and cultural heritage.  

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Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings_Atlas Obscura

Nestled in the heart of Tunisia, the Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings stand as a testament to human ingenuity and resilience. These unique underground homes have withstood the test of time, providing shelter to generations of locals while captivating the imagination of visitors from around the globe.

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Underground homes_Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

History and Origins:

The story of Matmata’s troglodyte dwellings dates back centuries, possibly to Roman times. The residents of this arid region carved their homes directly into the soft rock, creating a labyrinthine network of interconnected underground chambers. The primary motivation for such construction was to escape the harsh desert climate, offering a cool and stable environment.

How The Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings Constructed

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.

Art of Troglodyte Living:

The term “troglodyte” refers to people who live in caves, and the Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings exemplify the ancient art of subterranean living. Dating back to the Berber communities that settled in the area over a thousand years ago, these dwellings showcase the resourcefulness and adaptability of the local inhabitants. The troglodyte lifestyle was not merely a matter of necessity but a choice deeply rooted in the region’s arid climate and the desire for a harmonious coexistence with the environment.

The troglodyte dwellings exemplify the harmonious relationship between humans and their environment. The natural rock formations not only provide a sturdy foundation for construction but also help in maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the homes. This eco-friendly approach reflects the resourcefulness of the local people in utilizing the materials available to them.

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Cave dwellings_Chris Rudge

Architectural Marvels Carved in Stone:

What sets the Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings apart is the meticulous craftsmanship that went into creating these underground marvels. Carved directly into the soft limestone rock, the dwellings feature interconnected rooms, courtyards, and ventilation shafts that reflect a profound understanding of architecture and environmental considerations. The result is a labyrinthine network of chambers where each nook and cranny tells a story of resourcefulness and innovation.

One of the striking features of the Matmata dwellings is their simple yet effective design. The homes are carved in a circular or oval shape, with a central courtyard that serves as a communal gathering space. The rooms, typically interconnected, branch off from this central hub. The thick walls of the dwellings provide insulation, keeping the interiors cool during scorching summers and warm in colder months.

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Life Underground:

The troglodyte lifestyle wasn’t just about finding shelter; it encompassed an entire way of life. The Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings provided inhabitants with a stable, cool refuge from the scorching desert heat. The underground spaces maintained a consistent temperature, offering respite from the extremes of the external environment. Moreover, these dwellings were designed to foster a sense of community, with shared spaces and communal areas that encouraged social interactions.

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From Star Wars to Reality:

While the Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings have a rich history of their own, they gained international fame through their connection to popular culture. Several of these underground structures served as the filming location for Luke Skywalker’s childhood home in the iconic Star Wars film series. The unique architecture and surreal landscape of Matmata added an otherworldly dimension to the science fiction saga, bringing global attention to this remote corner of Tunisia.

Preservation Challenges and Cultural Significance:

Despite their enduring charm, the Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings face challenges related to preservation and modernization. As younger generations migrate to urban centers in search of employment and a different way of life, the traditional troglodyte lifestyle is gradually fading. Efforts are underway to preserve these unique dwellings as cultural heritage sites, recognizing their historical significance and the need to strike a balance between tradition and progress.

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Berber Rugs in Underground Home_

Modern Influences:

While some residents continue to live in traditional troglodyte homes, the impact of modernization is evident in Matmata. Some dwellings have been adapted to cater to the needs of the contemporary world, incorporating amenities like electricity and plumbing. Despite these changes, the unique charm and historical significance of the troglodyte dwellings remain intact.

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Tourist Attraction:

In recent years, Matmata has gained international recognition as a tourist destination, attracting enthusiasts eager to explore these ancient dwellings. Visitors can tour the troglodyte homes, gaining insights into the daily lives of the locals and marveling at the architectural brilliance that has endured for centuries.

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Ahlem, four, climbs up a wall to reach her rabbit’s hideaway at her troglodyte house on the outskirts of Matmata, Tunisia, February 5, 2018_REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra


The Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings stand as a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the Berber communities that carved out a life in the harsh desert terrain. These underground dwellings are not only a window into the past but also a reminder of the delicate balance between preserving cultural heritage and adapting to the evolving needs of contemporary society. As visitors explore the labyrinthine passages and interconnected rooms, they can’t help but feel a sense of awe and reverence for a way of life that has endured, quite literally, beneath the surface of time.

The Matmata Troglodyte Dwellings stand not only as a fascinating architectural wonder but also as a living testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit. In the heart of Tunisia’s desert landscape, these underground homes continue to capture the imagination of those who visit, bridging the gap between the past and the present.


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Amen Abrha, a dynamic young architect and author, is celebrated for her visionary concept of "Healing through architecture." Graduating with distinction, she channels her passion into creating spaces that promote well-being. Amen shares her unique perspective through insightful writings, blending the realms of architecture and healing for a transformative impact.