An American Abroad

The Troglodyte Pit Dwellings of Matmata: Part 1

Having gotten my American pop culture fix and brought balance to the force at Luke Skywalker’s old digs, I went in search of some more authentically Tunisian troglodyte pit dwellings.

But first I needed two things: someplace to stay and a guide.

I opted for the Diar El Barbar Hotel. Though not old itself, it’s built along traditional lines: cave-like rooms running off a sunken courtyard. But these rooms had some modern comforts such as concrete floors, electricity, plumbing, and cable. And most important this time of year: heat.

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For a tour of the area, I hired Mohammed, a Touareg with a high-and-tight and a moped. It was the first time I ever rode bitch on a luggage rack. The poor little machine was so underpowered that I had to hop off and walk up the steeper hills.

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Mohammed took me first to a homespun museum in one of the pit dwellings.

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The directions for making one of these 400-year-old structures are pretty simple. Dig a circular hole about 20 feet down into the soft sandstone. That’s your courtyard. Dig a well down even deeper. Then excavate some horizontal cavelets around the sides to serve as rooms. Now you’ve got a house that’s cool even in the blaze of summer’s heat.

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After the museum, Mohammed took me to some of the other pit dwellings in the area. The ones I went into are not exactly museums – people actually live in them – but are open to the guided public for viewing.

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Comments

  1. Cathie Kelly says:

    Pretty darn awesome Jim! They remind me of my dwellings when I lived in Spain. Cool inside. And very rustic! Any word on Antarctica?

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