The troglodyte village
The village of Matmata is located in the south of Tunisia depending on the governorate of Gabès. Even if New Matmata has become the main town in the region, the center of the Matmata tribe remains the old village located in the heart of the mountains. It is for the benefit of the new modern city that urban development and the rural exodus of populations has emptied and desertified it.
Its name comes from a Berber tribe which is itself a descendant of the Temzit and described at length by Ibn Khaldoun in his book History of the Berbers and Muslim dynasties of northern Africa. She founded, near a thermal spring, the city of Hamma Matmata (now El Hamma). She was forced to flee during the Hilalian invasions and founded the current Matmata in the nearby mountains that bear the same name. However, Berber is no longer spoken there, which is still the case in the neighboring villages of Toujane, Techine, Zrawa and Tamezret.
The Matmata mountains which dominate the vast plain of Djeffara are located south-east of Chott El-Jerid, in the foothills of Djebel Dahar, they constitute a cuesta (515 meters) cleared in the limestone rocks and marls of the Upper Cretaceous and middle by various wadis. The village is forty kilometers south-west of Gabès. Clinging to the mountainside, 600 meters above sea level, our charming village had 2,116 inhabitants in 2004. It is renowned for its remarkable troglodyte dwellings which make it one of the high places of Tunisian tourism.
Matmata was also the stronghold of the fellagas who took up arms against the French protectorate under the leadership of Mohamed Daghbaji, several of his companions being from the city of Matmata.
Just after independence was proclaimed in 1956, the government tried to dislodge the mountain populations towards new towns settled on the Aradh plateau (New Matmata and New Zrawa) but the majority of the population preferred to keep their homes near their homes. gardens perched in the mountains.
Architecture and Tourism
The troglodyte dwellings
It is in the sides of the mountain around a vast usually circular well, that these dwellings are dug. Around this well constituting the courtyard of the dwelling are dug longitudinally and in floors the rooms which will be used for the lower floor of rooms (camour), kitchen (matbakh), sheepfold for the goats and stables, the upper floor being reserved for the storage (makhzen) of dates, dried figs, cereals and olives.
In this region subject to very strong heat waves, several months a year, this particular arrangement of the habitat allows light to penetrate into the underground rooms while keeping them cool in the hottest of summer. Although the interior temperature of these dwellings is not constant throughout the year, as in a cave, the thermal amplitudes between winter and summer are quite small: about fifteen degrees in January and 23 to 25 degrees in July-August. From the natural level of the exterior ground, one generally descends into the courtyard directly by means of a narrow staircase arranged on the side of the wall or possibly a ladder leaning against the latter.
You can also enter the courtyard by a horizontal underground corridor which begins a little downstream in the side of the mountain (because the majority of these houses are built on sloping ground). Some houses are quite elaborate with a succession of inner courtyards which are accessed by underground corridors starting from the dwellings or the main courtyard, two levels of superimposed rooms, a gently sloping access tunnel starting from the upper edge of the well , etc.
The Sidi Driss hotel
The Sidi Idriss hotel serves as the setting for Star Wars by George Lucas; This is the Lars family residence where Luke Skywalker, Beru and Owen Lars live. This type of construction already existed 3000 years ago: the Phoenicians, who landed around 1200 BC. AD adopted it and the Romans in turn took up this design to build summer apartments in their cities. In France, there is a very similar type of troglodyte habitat in the region of Doué-la-Fontaine where the “residing caves” of generally rectangular shape – this is what these underground dwellings are called – are dug into the walls quarries of falun (variety of freestone) in the open.
The village of Matmata in pictures
The village of Matmata in video
Top visits in Matmata
Matmata is the place where you won’t be bored! Between its troglodyte houses, its Berber villages and its museums we have enough for a week. Discover with us the essentials of Matmata.
Where to stay in Matmata
In Matmata the choice of accommodation is so vast that it can meet all needs and all tastes! Between hotels, guest houses and vacation rentals