Matmata, Tunisia

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For the French rock band, see Matmatah. For the town in New Zealand, see Matamata. For the turtle, see Mata mata.

Matmata (Arabic: مطماطةMaṭmāṭah) is a small Berber speaking town in southern Tunisia. Some of the local Berber residents live in traditional underground "troglodyte" structures. In 2004 it had a population of 2,116.[1]

The structures typical for the village are created by digging a large pit in the ground. Around the perimeter of this pit artificial caves are then dug to be used as rooms, with some homes comprising multiple pits, connected by trench-like passageways.


Troglodyte house

Ancient history[edit]

Tunisia is one of the most popular places in North Africa.

The origin of this extraordinary place is not known, except from tales carried from generation to generation. The most improbable account says 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, with permission to kill every human being in their way. 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 Matmâta. 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 prolific 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 of their families.

Panorama of the Berber town of Matmata, January 2011.

Modern rediscovery[edit]

It was not generally known until 1967 that there were regular settlements in this area besides wandering nomadic tribes.

A welcoming sight in Tunisia

That year, intensive rains that lasted for 22 days inundated the troglodyte homes and caused many of them to collapse. In order to get help from the authorities, a delegation was sent to the community center of the region in the town of Gabès. The visit came as a surprise, but help was provided, and the above-ground settlement of Matmâta was built. However, most of the people continued their lives in re-built underground homes, and only a few of the families moved to the new surface dwellings.

Today, Matmata is a popular tourist attraction, and most of the population lives on tourism and folklore exhibitions in their homes.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Recensement de 2004 (Institut national de la statistique)". Retrieved 2013-09-01. 
  2. ^ Carvin, Andy (25 January 2006). "The real Star Wars?". Associated Press. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Daniel Jacobs and Peter Morris (2001). "Jedi Stomping Ground". Tunisia (6th ed. ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 319. ISBN 9781858287485. 
  4. ^ "Matmata accueille bientôt une grosse production" (in French). La Presse de Tunisie. September 24, 2010. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°32′33.5″N 09°58′0.5″E / 33.542639°N 9.966806°E / 33.542639; 9.966806