Matmata is a village in southern Tunisia belonging to the governorate of Gabes. Although the New Matmata has become the main locality of the region, the center of the Matmata tribe remains the ancient village located in the heart of the mountains. It is for the benefit of the new modern city that the urban development and the rural exodus of the populations emptied and desertified this one.
Its name comes from a Berber tribe which is itself a descendant of the Temzit and long described by Ibn Khaldoun in his book History of Berbers and Muslim Dynasties of Northern Africa. She founded, near a hot spring, the city of Hamma Matmata (now El Hamma). She is forced to flee during the Hilalian invasions and founds the current Matmata in the nearby mountains that bear the same name. However, there is no Berber speaking, which is still the case in the neighboring villages of Taoujout, Techine, Zrawa, and Tamezret.
The Matmata mounts that dominate the vast plain of Djeffara are located southeast of Chott el-Jerid, in the foothills of the Jebel Dahar, they constitute a cuesta (515 meters) cleared in the limestone rocks and marls of the Upper Cretaceous. and medium by various wadis. The village is forty kilometers southwest of Gabes. Hung on the mountainside, 600 meters above sea level, our charming village has 2,116 inhabitants in 2004. It is renowned for the remarkable troglodyte dwellings that make it one of the top places of Tunisian tourism.
It was during the allied bombing of the city of Gabes, then in the hand of the Nazis, that several Gabonese families fled their city to take refuge in the troglodyte houses of Matmata.
Matmata was also the stronghold of the resistants calledFellagas who took up arms against the French protectorate under the leadership of Mohamed Daghbaji, several of his companions coming from the city of Matmata.
Just after the independence proclaimed in 1956, the government tried to dislodge the mountain population to new cities settled on the Aradh plateau (New Matmata and New Zrawa) but the majority of the population preferred to keep their house near their homes. gardens perched in the mountains.
Architecture and Tourism
The troglodytic dwellings
It is on the sides of the mountain around a vast well usually circular, that these dwellings are dug. Around this well constituting the courtyard of the house are hollowed longitudinally and in stages, the rooms which will be used for the lower floor of rooms (Kamour), of the kitchen (Matbakh), sheepfold for the goats and stables, the upper floor is reserved for storage (Makhzen) dates, dried figs, cereals, and olives.
In this region subject to very strong heat waves, several months per year, this particular habitat development allows light to penetrate into the underground rooms while keeping it cool in the hottest part of the summer. Although the indoor temperature of these dwellings is not constant throughout the year, as in a cave, the thermal amplitudes between winter and summer are quite small: fifteen degrees in January and 23 to 25 degrees in July-August. From the natural level of the external ground, one generally descends into the courtyard directly by means of a narrow staircase arranged on the side of a wall or possibly a ladder leaning against the latter.
You can also enter the courtyard through a horizontal underground corridor that starts a little downstream in the side of the mountain (because the majority of these houses are built on steep terrain). Some houses are quite elaborate with a succession of courtyards which are accessed by underground corridors from the house or the main courtyard, two levels of overlapping rooms, access tunnel gently sloping from the upper edge of the well, etc.
Hotel Sidi Driss is the setting for Star Wars by George Lucas; it is the residence of the Lars family 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 their turn adopted this conception to building summer apartments in their cities. In France, there is a very similar type of troglodyte habitat in the Doué-la-Fontaine region, where the ‘living cellars’ of generally rectangular shape – this is what we call these underground dwellings – are dug in the walls. of Falun quarries (tufa variety) in the open.