Matmata – caves and Star Wars 014

Matmata is the destination for the day. While we’re on sightseeing tour, the mechanics are working on our car. The injectors were installed, but the message of the workshop is devastating. The car is still stopping after five kilometers. Now it can only be the pressure switch on the engine, the mechanics think, which of course has to be organized from Europe again. Again waiting. Meanwhile, we are already here for two weeks.

In the evening we sit around the campfire with the Berlin couple. We consider to return back to Europe. If we already have such problems here, how will that be in East Africa? Bodo and Bine think in a different direction. They think about to come with us to Cape Town. For us, the situation suddenly looks different. When we travel together, we might dare with this car. But first the vehicle must get moving again.

The next morning we set off on the public bus to Matmata. There we will visit the cave dwellings.

Wonderful situated are the caves in the rugged hilly landscape. In the valley the cave village extends. Here the residents have dug dozens of caves into the soft clay soil with tunnel access . Most of the 400 year old caves are no longer inhabited. Because around the old cave village, a 3000 population large city has emerged. From here come the tour guides, offering to guide visitors to the caves.

Matmata Caves

The Greek Herodotus reported in the 4th century BC of troglodytes, cave people, who lived in villages here under the ground. Probably the Berber chose this form of housing because it was easier to dig in the clay than to build up houses with this unstable material . The advantage of the caves is also the fact that they are well protected from the heat and keep the winter cold outside.

The apartments are shaft-dug into the ground. Most of them are 10 meters deep vertical shafts with a diameter of 15 meters. The shaft bottom is an open-ended courtyard, which was mostly used by one large family. The living rooms and stables as well, lead from the yard into the soil.

With the guide, we enter the courtyard of a cave dwelling. As the sun is already low, it is well-shaded and cool here.

Some of the apartments are even two stories high. The white lime paint protects the walls from weathering. Above there were mostly storage rooms, which could be accessed via a rope hanging or in clay carved steps. On the first level are the living rooms. The access from the outside into the yard is on a shaft that was dug through the outer wall and can be closed with a wooden door. The rooms are simply furnished and only dug out from the clay. Security may have played no role in the construction because the ceiling and the walls are not yet supported. The open courtyard was a risk, because they could be easily attacked from the crater rim.

The government is trying to make the residents live in a settlement, but many still hold to the traditional form of housing. Throughout the Matmata area, there are hundreds of inhabited caves. We look into the apartments, the owner receives a tip, of course, when we infiltrate her privacy. The Berber families living here are very accessible and improve their meager livelihood with the tips. In the village there is also a cave museum. It consists of several living rooms and displays traditional clothes and furniture, as well as tools for the kitchen and field work.

Famous is the Hotel Sidi Driss by the movie “Star Wars”. We want to visit that place, of course. The hotel was a film set, and of course there are still the buildings to see. Just a reminder, Luke lived here with his aunt and uncle. Before we enter the hotel, we take a look from above into the yard. Already here you can see some special buildings for the film. We enter the hotel through the reception and go into the courtyard. From the courtyard, you get to the individual hotel rooms. The complex is laid out nice, but we do not get a real Star Wars feeling.

Matmata Star Wars

We end our tour and take the bus back to Gabes.