Going underground: Libya's unusual cave dwellings

Mon Jul 1, 2013 9:24am EDT
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By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

GHARYAN, Libya (Reuters) - Deep inside Libya's western Nafusa Mountains, some 10 meters into the ground, Al-Arabi Belhaj is preparing mint tea in a somewhat unusual dwelling.

Sitting on colorful rugs on the floor and surrounded by clay pots, the 43-year old describes life in what used to be his home - a troglodyte cave house.

"This house was dug out in 1666 and generations of families have lived here. I was born here and there used to be eight families living together," he said as he poured the tea from one pot to another to cool it.

"The women would go to the mountains to get wood and water before we the children would wake up. Then they would make tea together while the men looked after the animals."

Belhaj spent the first 10 years of his life in this home, dug vertically into the ground by his ancestors, who excavated caves around a central squared courtyard. Each room housed a family with cooking areas - smaller caves - used communally.

Decorated with traditional Berber designs - colorful rugs, chests and pottery, each 10 meter-long cave, was split into three sections - the parents' sleeping area, the children's bedding and a living room.

A door made out of olive tree wood at its front, the home provided insulation in winter and allowed its inhabitants to keep cool during hot summers.

"The houses are now unoccupied as the families moved out in 1985," Belhaj's nephew Abdulrahman said. "But we still come here in the summer to cool down."   Continued...

A view of a troglodyte cave house in the western mountain town of Gharyan, 100 km (62 miles) south of Tripoli, June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny