Incredible Cave Towns around the World
Throughout history humans have done their best to make the most of the environments in which they live in. One of the more remarkable scenarios is the idea of living in caves or underground. As strange as it might seem to many of us, cultures from around the globe have chosen to live like this, from the Bronze Age to the modern day.
What’s quite cool is that you can visit many of these places on your travels, whether they’re still in use today or not. So if you’re curious about what living in a cave would be like, here are some of the most incredible cave towns around the world.
There may be no place on Earth better known for its cave houses than the Turkish region of Cappadocia. Located in central Turkey, Cappadocia is adored for its wonderfully unusual rock formations known as “fairy chimneys,” best viewed from on board a hot air balloon. But that this rocky terrain is home to networks of man-made caverns where people lived makes it even more enchanting.
The reason why people chose to live underground in Cappadocia is a little less enchanting. Sitting on the frontier between empires, the region frequently saw armed forces marching one way or the other. By living inside the landscape, locals were able to safely hide from soldiers and the conflict. There were not just homes built into the rock, but also cave chapels and monasteries.
Surpisingly, Cappadocia is home to not just one cave town but several, with Göreme and Uçhisar the most well-known. You can see what the cave monasteries decorated with frescoes looked like when you visit the Open Air Museum in Göreme. But to experience what it would be like to sleep underground, you’ll need to stay in one of Cappadocia’s many comfortable cave hotels.
Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
You don’t have to travel half-way around the world to see cave towns, as there are some closer than you might think. Take, for instance, the settlement of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Bandelier National Monument. For four-hundred years, this Native American culture lived in large settlements in caves and under cliffs across the area.
While the Ancestral Puebloans moved on from the site around 1550, much of their settlement has weathered the test of time. Visiting Bandelier National Monument today, you can still see the remains of this cave town. It’s easy to spot the windows poking out of the hillside, and you can take a closer look at these historic dwellings when you climb up strategically placed ladders leaning against the volcanic rock.
It’s important to say that the people here didn’t exclusively live in caves. They also built multi-level buildings against cliff faces and on the canyon floor. But the fact that they also carved out caves into the cliffs is what makes the site so fascinating.
For cave towns that have stood the test of time, Matera in Italy has few rivals. This city in the region of Basilicata is best known for its ancient cave dwellings called the “Sassi di Matera.” With evidence suggesting that people have lived in these caves since 7000 BC, it’s no surprise that the “Sassi” are now a UNESCO heritage-listed site.
As recently as 1952, citizens of Matera lived in these cave dwellings, but were evicted for a fairly good reason. It seems that those living in the caves were stricken with disease and crippling poverty, forcing the government to relocate most of them to modern houses, for their own benefit.
Fast forward 60+ years and these caves are now a leading tourist attraction of Matera, the 2019 European City of Culture. Places like the Casa Grotta nei Sassi have recreated what life was like in the cave dwellings so that tourists can see what life was like in “Old Matera.” Others have repurposed the caves into art galleries, restaurants and more, proving that the caves still have life in them.
Coober Pedy, Australia
Despite the other places mentioned here, living underground isn’t only for people whose cultures have been doing things that way for centuries. For the people of Coober Pedy in South Australia, the idea of living underground only goes back 60 or so years.
Just a small town in the Australian outback, Coober Pedy is famed for its opal trade, as the town is the source of most of the world’s high-quality opals. The precious stones have been mined in Coober Pedy for a little more than one hundred years, but the idea of “dugouts,” as they’re known, is much younger. Today these dugouts house all sorts of things, from underground churches and jewelery shops to local motels.
Dugouts were originally underground spaces left over from opal mining that locals decided to convert into housing. Given that there were empty mines scattered across town, it kind of makes sense to repurpose them. And actually, l iving underground is quite smart when the average summer highs are around 95°F and the hottest temperature on record in Coober Pedy is a staggering 117°F.
Of the varied benefits that living in cave towns has offered, protection from outsiders seems to be quite common. In the case of Vardzia in the country of Georgia, it was fear of the invading Mongol hordes that forced the people there to build this cave town in the 12th century.
This underground defensive sanctuary was built under rule of Queen Tamar, at the time the ruler of the medieval kingdom of Georgia. The result, which you can visit as a day trip from the national capital of Tbilisi, is simply stunning. Spread out over thirteen to nineteen levels and home to as many as 6000 dwellings, the cave town of Vardzia is truly immense.
Vardzia isn’t the only cave town in Georgia either, with the town of Uplistsikhe also carved into rock along one of the local trade routes. But Vardzia is special because, after earthquakes brought many of the caves down, a community of monks stayed here, and still do to this day.
About David Johnston:
David is an avid traveler from Australia who has spent the last several years exploring as much of Europe as he can. He has a passion for trying to find the lesser-seen, quieter pockets of the world, fostering a love of photography along the way. From hiking in the outdoors to exploring medieval towns, his travels have taken him to some fascinating places well off the beaten path. You can follow his travels on his blog Travelsewhere and on Facebook.
All content provided in this blog is supplied by David Johnston and is for informational purposes only. Barclays takes no position as to the views, and makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by
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