2014年2月24日 星期一

Tunisian Tour. 5 - Matmata (突尼西亞之旅.5--瑪特瑪它)


The following day was a day of mainly on the road.  We went to Matmata (Arabic: مطماطة‎ Maṭmāṭah), a small desert town hidden amongst the hills in southern Tunisia where about 2000 people live in the traditional underground caves dug out from the sides of the dry yellow earth. The people there were Berbers, the oldest original inhabitants of North Africa who are thought to have been living there since the Roman times. Their homes, called "troglodytes" , are a bit like those found in the loess caves in Shenxi, China.  Each such house has several rooms, some used as storehouse, others as bedrooms connected sometimes connected to each other by underground tunnels. They got no kitchens. They cook their food in  earth stoves a little distance away from their where they live. So are their latrines. They got their water from wells dug deep into the earth. But now, they got government supplied water. It is said that for centuries, no one knew that they were until 1967 when there was a huge flood lasting 22 days which inundated such underground homes and the locals were forced to seek Government help. Since then some above ground homes have been built but the majority of the local rebuilt their own homes because they were used to this way of living. According to their oral history, their ancestors thought of this way of hiding from the Egyptian tribes sent by the Romans to kill them during the Punic War. Like ghosts which came from nowhere, they would emerge stealthily and quietly from their hideouts during the night to attack their enemies some distance off and kill them off and then immediately went back to their caves. This strategy proved so successful that they had remained there ever since.

We started quite early and had to drive several hours. The restaurant where we had our rest stop for a coffee before we reached Matmata

 We did not have very many choices

It's very barely furnished: its doors and windows are painted "blue", like so many others houses in Tunisia

 The desert behind through a wire mesh

They appear to have a special fondness of plain primary colors

On the floor of the terrace outside the restaurant, they got some local pottery for sale

One of the pots

The patterns on one of the trays

And hand painted and fired tiles  

One of the tiles

Some paintings

Another painting

and also some "desert roses"

one of the petals of the desert rose

The cactus in the courtyard

Cactus fruit

We were first brought to visit a Berber family where we were given a tour of her house and were given a "taste" of how the locals would eat their "tabouna" bread dipped in a mix of wild honey and olive oil and drink their herbal tea. This is the sitting room of the family who prepared  the herbal tea and their local "tabouna" bread, which looks and tastes a bit like the "pita" bread eaten by the Indians..

This is one of their storerooms.

This is another 

This is the passage leading to the entrance of the cave house


This is an alcove in the courtyard where the Berber women would sit out in the open if they want to look at the sky whilst working on their hand-powered stone mill for grinding the fine flour needed for making their traditional "tabouna" bread in their terracotta oven. 

 This is the type of countryside where such "troglodytes" would be found.

One could see there there are many basins amongst the hills nearby. Many of the houses of the locals are dug out from such 'basins"

The "ticketing office"where we would have a rest break

The reception hall

One of the underground passages

 its courtyard. One could see the wooden doors to various rooms in this two-stprey hotel.

This is another "troglodytes" near to where we had our "tea"

Some above ground structures adjacent to our hotel-restaurant, filled with graffiti..

This is a view of one the biggest buildings we found in the region taken from the coach window

A seaside coast we passed through

What we found on our way to Matmata

Near to some of the houses we were to visit, we would find some such make-shift tents made with a few twigs tied to a rock or two and some sack cloth protected by a rush-mat sand guard.

You can see how ramshackle it is: it seems to have been built with whatever materials the Berbers could pick up locally

You can see that no matter how primitive they are, they always have a mat on the floor for sitting

Another view of the tent

We were introduced to one of the local families there. Here we find a cooking basin, a cooking tray and an open air oven where they would prepare their "pita" bread or other food

The entrance to the home we would visit is decorated with just a palm tree stump covered over with a very roughly hand knitted cloth

Some pieces of tree barks tied together with some metal strips serve as door/gate to the entrance to their home

a cast iron "welcome" sign in English : many Berbers now rely on tourism as a means of livelihood

A leather belt and a pad hung on the wall as a wall decoration when not in use, presumably as a protection of the back or as a simple harness on a donkey or a small horse?

Some pots for cooking tea or other drinks. The small stove is stored in a separate hole on the wall

Their rooms are barely furnished: they would sit on a mat/rug/carpet. There is a small stove and tea/coffee pot close to the entrance for better ventilation. A cat is resting on the red rug.

A close-up shows the very primitive stove placed on plank presumably to facilitate it being carried around before the fire is extinguished.

Another hollow in the wall will serve as the family loom where the women will make the relevant rugs or carpets.

The house tools are hung on the wall, scissors, pincers, hammer, a hand saw, a chisel, a spanner, a spade, a rake, and a digger, a harness, bucket.  etc.. .

A whip, a metal chain, a hook, a bucket, some hand saws

The urn at the corner is decorated with some simple thread or woolen net.

The entrance to the "rooms" are simply decorated with the figure of a hand a two fishes both of them are used as protective amulets. In particular, the open right hand with 5 extended fingers( in Aranic, hamsa= خمسة‎ khamsah /khamsa, literally means 5) has many meanings and in Islam, it means the 5 pillars of Wisdom viz. shahadah (declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God's Messenger), salat ( the ritual of praying 5 times a day), Sawm ( fasting and self-control during the blessed month of Ramadan), zakat (giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and need) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime). The open right hand is an image recognized and used as a sign of protection in many societies throughout history especially it's believed that the hamsa/khamsa  to provide a defense against the evil eye. it's a symbol predating Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Islam, the open palm is also known as the hand of Fatima (Muhammad's daughter Fatima Zahra (c. 605 or 615[3] – 633).) Some say that the 5 fingers refer  to the 5 households of the Islamic prophet Muhammed over whom Muhammed he held a cloth viz.  Fatima-tül Zehra, Ali-el Mürteza, Hasan-ül Mücteba, Hüseyin-i Desht-i Kerbela and Muhammed himself.

All the urns for storing various preserved foodstuffs, oil and other liquids are kept in a separate hole together with with various items a lady might use for her cuisine.

Hats, baskets and other outdoor tools are kept in this storeroom

The walking sticks and crutches are placed outside the storeroom for implements for outdoor food production or gathering

The teapot, saucers, cups and other drink related containers or vessels etc. are placed inside a bucket.

A guest room, nicely decorated with colorful rugs,carpets and cushions. Here again we find the symbol of 2 fishes, referring to the Christian Biblical story of 5 loaves and two fishes.  According to Islam, Jesus too is considered one of God's prophets. 


a pair of antelope's horns tied together with a string as a wall decoration

The Berbers seem to like to have the image of a fish as a wall decoration

a simple plate glazed in half yellow and half green serves as another wall decoration

The corner of the walls is decorated with a creeper which requires little water

Another hollow in the wall a color-stoped mat and a few cushion, plus a patterned carpet would probably serve as the family room: on the wall is hung an old fashioned radio and a clock.

An old fashioned alarm clock is also hung on the wall as a decoration. Above it we see a photo of the woman and her child

 A more modern looking battery-powered electrical clock is more precious and is placed in a special hole on the wall

Two clay jugs placed slantwise at each corner of the arched enclave also serve as decorations. The center piece is a handwoven woolen rug/carpet with intricate patterns

 An old Berber in traditional clothing. a blue turban over his head, a satchel on the wall, a stove in front of his room, a low table and a picture on the wall and a curtain over his cave

Several palm tree trunks, some dry palm leave and a few rocks and you have a small shelter

You can see that the environment in which the Berbers live are extremely harsh. Hardly anything but the hardiest plants grow there.

But to my surprise, I found these flowers on a small tree there.

A view of their house from above

 Inside a small cave, they raise some chickens so that they may have some eggs

Through the wire mesh, I could detect the head of a cockerel. Close by is an outdoor latrine, just a wooden shed with a dirty toilet bowl and a bucket of water for flushing.

The entrance to another  "troglokteke": this one seems to have some granite blocks to shore up the walls on both sides. Above the top of the house, they have placed a pitcher as a decoration or perhaps as good luck charm.

This is the  entrance to another such Berber "residence"

We were driven to a look out point on the top of the one of the hills there to have a panoramic view of the lay of he land where all the houses are situated.The sign pointing us towards our destination: Matmata..

The road up to Matmata

Matmata has since the filming of one of the episodes of "Star War" in 1976, become a hot tourist "must see" spots in Tunisia. We're closer to the look out point now

The parking lot

The steps up the viewing platform

Over the side of the mountain, one could make out the word "Matmata", the name of the region.

The "flower bed" at the bottom of the steps up the look out point: not much could grow there.


The view from the left of the lookout point

The view from the right of the look out point: you can see that the valleys are dammed up into steps, presumably to stop the rare flash flood water during the winter rainy season from destroying the their homes below. This happened in 1967 and was the cause of the Berbers living in the area being brought to the attention of the Tunisian Government.

its dirt track all around

The road by which we came

One can see that hills rise up in steady steps

and that at some spots in the valley below there appears some dam-like earth mounds. We see that for miles and miles around, there's nothing but a dessicated landscape, its hills all corroded by wind erosion, with screes of the fallen rocks from higher up gathered in piles and heaps at the foot of the hills

We were then driven down. This is the town centre; in the background, you see a square minaret

 There are some overhead power cable

This is our local guide, Mr. "Brandy". He says that because his name is difficult to pronounce in Arab, he would allow tour members to call him "Mr Brandy".

The Berber in a traditional camel hair hooded "barnous" poncho-like robe.

This is where we would have our lunch

This is the entrance

There is a post box outside

They are also selling souvenirs there: some "desert roses"

Tunisians shoes, hand painted pots, tiles and bottle etc.

The main courtyard

This is the coffee bar

The drinks bar

The entrance to another part of the hotel

There are different levels

the decoration at the corner of one of the courtyards

Different pots are placed on top of some of the bedrooms as decorations

You got to climb up into this hole to access your bedroom. your only assistance in that regard is rope hung down from the bottom of the door above

The kitchen of the hotel

Some simple embroidery for sale in the reception area

The patterns are almost child-like

Various clay pots, dishes etc on sale

Colorful baskets

More intricate dishes

 a vase

aromatic bottles

Heating bucket

Scarves and shawls

A very mexican looking courtyard

Another view of the same courtyard with different hotel rooms on the first floor

We were given a tour of some of the rooms available there: all dug out from the hillside

The exit

The hotel was the site where Star War was filmed

A passage leading to the courtyard where the Star War people have left behind their props on the wall

The Star War aliens' entrance to their base

They even got a bar there

More of the Star War props

The yellow tube looks so incongruous there

The exit is covered with a thatch roof. You find some gas cylinders in the courtyard. They need that for preparing meals for the tourists

Some of the passages inside the hotel

More steps up another level

Another tunnel in the maze of underground passages leading to another courtyard

More passages

This is the bar

One of our tour members posing for the others

More Star War props on the cave wall

Another cat they kept there

The toilet

A hand-drawn plan of the hotel

The door to one of the rooms at the hotel

A platform bed

This is what the group room looks like

This is another room

A double room!

The decoration at the corner of the courtyard

Cactus and "desert roses" the central decoration of the courtyard

The door to room no. 5

A colorful enclave

This is the reception area and exhibition room

The friendly receptionist

This is another courtyard in the hotel

The entrance/exit to the reception area

This is the boiler room

This is our dining hall

This is what I had: fried omelette, a local favorite

Two of our tour members about to finish their meal

The waiter picking up the leftovers: we had mutton. Many of our tour members didn't fancy "mutton". So the leftovers were quite sizeable.

One of our tour group members posing

Another of the passages of the hotel

 a mural of one of the hotel courtyards

Another mural of the same courtyard

a mural of another hotel courtyard

in various small enclave on the wall, there were placed various decorations

A wall painting of a Berber woman doing kitchen work

a mural of a desert scene

Another entrance to another courtyard

This room looks quite elaborate

another room in the hotel
We were led out of the hotel through another exit, passing through the reception counter of the hotel with a sign saying that they even got Wi-Fi there! Sure, if they could accommodate aliens in Star War, why should Wi-Fi pose any problem!