Since the dawn of time people have lived in caves, and while it may not be so common anymore, there are still a number of cave cities and villages left in the world that you can visit. Not only are the mysterious caves magnificent to look at, but many hold a wide variety of historical and cultural artifacts from multiple different civilizations.
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Troo, located in the department of Loir-et-Cher, is one of France’s most charming villages. It’s also considered the most well-preserved cave village in the country. The domesticated cave dwellings, known as troglodyte homes, offer a history at least as rich as the region’s chateaus. The village is spread over three different levels: on the bottom, the oldest buildings date from medieval times, on the mid-level are the troglodyte dwellings and, on the plateau overlooking the valley, is the upper city. It hosts gorgeous terraces, paths and lots of cave homes that date back to the 11th and 12th century, built right into the slopes of a steep hill – some of which are available for traveler accommodation. Tourists can also experience a cave-dwelling by visiting La Cave Yuccas, a cave-dwelling furnished with antiques, or the Friends of Troo cave, an exhibition which recreates a cave dwelling.
Matera is one of the most awe-inspiring of all cave villages. It sits atop a ridge with deep canyons on either side, where people live and work in caves. Humans began to settle here at least 9,000 years ago, and likely much earlier than that. They made their homes in the natural caves of the canyon walls and continued to extend them until, eventually, there were thousands of caves throughout the town. While it’s becoming a popular tourist attraction, it was once considered a source of shame, as a place of poverty, high rates of infant mortality and malaria. The inhabitants lived in the caves with no electricity, sewage or running water, no electricity or sewage. After the situation became better known to the rest of the world, residents were moved out, and the cave homes were gradually abandoned in the 1950s and ‘60s, but just 20 years later, they were no longer considered scandalous, but a fascinating reminder of the past. In 1993, not long after the cave homes were renovated, it was named a UNESCO heritage site. Today, many of the caves have been transformed into stylish eateries and hotels.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
Located near Andalucia, Spain’s spectacular cliff-top town of Ronda, Setenil de las Bodegas, is a small village built beneath the overhang of a massive bluff. Here, many of the residents literally live under a rock, in the cave-like structures that were built into the gorge. Massive rock formations jut out over some of the streets, offering welcome shade during the hot summer months. Fruit stands and sidewalk cafes are also tucked away in the natural caves, many of which serve dishes made with locally-cultivated olives, almonds and chorizo. The village forms part of the region’s famous White Villages route, a trail through the charming white-washed villages that dot the hills between Cadiz and Malaga, while its less than two hours from the buzzing attractions in Seville.
This extraordinary ancient village in the province of East Azarbaijan, near the city of Tabriz in Iran, is rarely talked about, but it’s truly remarkable. It was established some 800 years ago, and is still inhabited about about 670 people. It was said to have been partially formed by volcanic remains from powerful Mont Sahand eruptions many years ago, and the structures were carved out of hardened ash from the dormant volcano. Visitors can stay at the recently built Laleh Kandovan International Rocky Hotel, inspired by the village itself. It features picturesque cave interiors with luxurious living spaces. The region is famous for not only its scenic beauty, but the healing power of its spring waters which are pumped into the hotel’s in-room Jacuzzis.
The ancient Lycian town of Myra is one of the many historical treasures along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Myra was a leading city of the Lycian Union and surpassed Xanthos in early Byzantine times to become the capital city of Lycia. Today, its main attractions are the large theater that once sat as many as 13,000 spectators, and the Necropolis Lycian rock tombs. The Necropolis is a series of tombs carved into the cliffs that overlook the ocean and the river – and while the exterior and view is jaw-dropping, the true gem is found inside, where chambers are decorated with reliefs and funerary depictions. The amphitheater’s double-vaulted corridors remain well-preserved and an inscription in a stall space reads “place of the vendor Gelasius” – the location of an ancient concessions stand.
Bandiagara Cliffs, Mali
The Bandiagara Escarpment is made up of a landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaus, along with stunning architecture that includes granaries, sanctuaries, homes and communal meeting places known as Togu Na. Built into the cliffs by West Africa’s early Tellem people, the village is considered one of the region’s most impressive sites. The communities at the site are essentially the Dogon, who have a very close relationship with their environment that’s expressed through sacred rituals and traditions. Bandiagara has managed to stay off the radar for tourists until only recently, though it’s becoming increasing popular to construction of a new highway, as well as a number of international grants for infrastructure and preservation. The best way to explore it is to hire a local guide. By taking the hike to the top of the cliffs, you’ll get an incredible view of the valley floor.
Grotta Mangiapane, Sicily
Grotta Mangiapane is housed in a single cave in Sicily. Situated on the west coast, the ancient village remained untouched for nearly seventy years after being abandoned in the 1950s, but today it functions as an open-air museum, where visitors can step back in time to get a glimpse of Italian life during its peak. While paintings inside the cave indicate that it may have been inhabited for millennia, the village as it currently stands was established in the early 1800s by the Mangiapane family.
Most “Star Wars” fans know Matmata as the fictional landscape and home of Luke Skywalker, Tatooine. Many of the first movie’s scenes were filmed right here in the African country of Tunisia, including those shot at the Hotel Sidi Driss. The traditional Berber house was constructed centuries ago and today offers traditional troglodyte accommodations. To escape the sizzling hot climate and desert winds of the region, the local Berber residents built these incredible underground homes, some of which are dug 23 feet into the ground. The underground settlements actually remained hidden for centuries, and no one had any knowledge of their existence until the 1960s. It’s become a popular tourist destination, and hotels like Hotel Marhala offer adventurous travelers the chance to live like a local.
The Cappadocia region of Turkey is one of the world’s most famous when it comes to cave dwellings, with Goreme being the most well known of all. It was first built during the Roman era, constructed amid the exquisite rock formations that dominate the area. The hard natural rock served as foundations and fortifications for those that built the town, and to this day, much of the ancient architecture still stands, with many of the churches carved directly into the rocks themselves. The village today has about 2,000 people living in it, and might have been inhabited as early as 1800 B.C. This beautiful town is something that truly must be seen to be believed, looking as if it could only exist in a fairytale. One of the best ways to see the surrealistic landscape is from above – and every morning just before sunrise, hundreds of hot air balloons are fired up across the region, floating above and around the rock formations.