The Last Families Living in Tunisia's Underground Houses

Recently, Reuters photographer Zohra Bensemra spent time in the arid valleys of southern Tunisia's Djebel Dahar region, where local people have lived for centuries in underground houses, also known as troglodyte houses, escaping extremes of summer and winter winds from the desert.

Al view of underground troglodyte houses in Matmata, Tunisia.

However, in recent decades, rural depopulation has left fewer people living in the cave houses, which are composed of rooms hewn into the walls of an excavated circular courtyard. The few remaining families say they are attached to the homes and the land or with no way of moving.

"If I leave then the house will be gone." A local people said. The homes are concentrated around Matmata, which lies in a cratered landscape dotted with palm trees and olive groves about 365 km south of Tunis. They are highly unusual, though similar constructions are found across the border in Libya, to the southwest.

"I don't want to leave my house; it would be as if I was throwing my life and my traditions away." Said by 36-year-old Saliha Mohamedi who sits with her children in their troglodyte house on the outskirts of Matmata.

4-year-old Ahlem climbs up a wall to reach her rabbit's hideaway at her cave house on the outskirts of Matmata.

Tunisian tourists watch as Saliha Mohamedi walks around her house in Matmata. Residents live largely off olive farming and tourism. Matmata became a popular destination after a troglodyte home converted into a hotel was used as a Star Wars set in the 1970s.

Saliha Mohamedi talks with her daughters after finishing her housework.

Saliha Mohamedi walks outside her troglodyte house.

▲ A cat sits inside a troglodyte house in Matmata.

43-year-old Mounjia leads her donkey towards her troglodyte house in Matmata and says:"I would like to leave for a modern house but I'm not rich enough to built one in a new city. Life in a troglodyte community is exhausting. We have to fetch water and wood; we have no electricity and can't even install a solar panel." (The photographer clarified that this family could not install solar panels because they were unable to afford them.)

Mounjia serves brunch to her husband Tayeb at their troglodyte house in Matmata.

Mounjia weaves carpet in her home.

▲ A pair of shoes hangs on the wall of a troglodyte house.


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