The second in our series on cave living around the world looks at cave living in Asia and reveals a truly amazing variety of caves dwellings.
Whilst I was not surprised that the largest continent in the World is home to the greatest number of cave dwellings, the diversity of the cave dwellings truly astounded me.
Cave Living in Asia
Afghanistan – Bamijan
The sandstone cliffs of Afghanistan’s Bamijan province are most famous for the giant 6th Century Buddha statues. Carved out of the rock, they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The monks who created them also dug out numerous caves. Originally used for meditation and retreat, some of these caves are now home to around 700 Afghan families. Most of the people living in the caves lost their homes when the Taliban captured Bamijan
The hardline Sunni movement burnt down the homes of the predominantly Shia Hazaras living in the area. When the people returned they had nowhere to go and so moved into the caves.
The cliffs are a UNESCO world heritage site and increasing damage is being done to the site as families install front doors and windows, build makeshift extensions and rig up satellite dishes and solar panels.
China – Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces
Cave living in Asia comes on no larger a scale than in China. According to the LA Times at least 30 million – and possibly closer to 40 million Chinese currently live in caves. To put this into some sort of context, the total population of Spain is 46 million.
Even Mao Zedong lived in a cave before becoming the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Most of the caves (known as Yaodong) are found in both the Shanxi and neighbouring Shaanxi region.
People have lived in Shanxi for around 5000 years and it is believed that at one stage a quarter of the population lived underground. These days about one-twelth of Shanix-ers still live in caves (an estimated 3 million people) and for many of them life is almost as it was for their ancestors.
The neighbouring Shaanxi province though is home to the greatest number of caves in China.
According to the LA Times report, each of the caves in Shaanxi province features a semicircular entrance that is covered with rice paper or quilts and leads to a long vaulted room that is dug into the side of a mountain.
China – Guyaju.
Sometimes called the biggest maze in China, Guyaju is an ancient cave house located about 92 kilometers (57 miles) from Beijing. No precise record of it has ever been found, so no one knows its exact origins. The house was hewn from the craggy cliffs overlooking Zhangshanying Town. The intriguing house complex has more than 110 stone rooms, and is the largest cave dwelling ever discovered in China.
Iran – East Azerbaijan Region – Kandovan
Many of the homes here are caves which have been carved into the cone-shaped, naturally forming compressed volcanic ash formations. The hardened material of the cones is strong enough to function as walls and floors of a house, yet soft enough to allow further shaping of the caves. Most of the cave houses are 2 to 4 storeys in height . In a typical 4 storey house, the ground floor or first floor is used as an animal shelter, the next two floors are used as living quarters and the top floor is used for storage.
From a distance, the landscape looks just like a giant termite colony.
Southern Georgia – Vardzia
This medieval cave monastery and city dates back to the 12th Century and is hewn into the side of the rocks of Mount Erusheti. The cave dwellings were initially constructed during the reign of Queen Tamar as protection from the Mongols.
They consisted of over 600 apartments in a 13 story complex. The city included a church, a throne room, and a complex irrigation system watering terraced farmlands. The only access to the complex was through some well hidden tunnels near the Mtkvari river.
In its heyday it housed over 50,000 people, now following an earthquake there remain less than 750 rooms.
There are still a few monks living in Vardzia who for a small fee act as guides for the small influx of more adventurous tourists.
Turkey – Cappadocia
The region of Cappadocia is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. When it comes to cave living in Asia, It is also one of the world’s most striking and largest cave-dwelling regions of the world. Carved within this one hundred square mile landscape are more than 40 underground cities and 200 underground villages. The most famous among these are the subterranean cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu.
Derinkuyu is the deepest cave city with eleven levels, 600 entrances and many miles of tunnels connecting it to other underground cities,
It can accommodate thousands of people. It is a truly underground city with areas for sleeping, stables for livestock, wells, water tanks, pits for cooking, ventilation shafts, communal rooms, bathrooms, and tombs.
The City of Kaymakli consists of 8 underground levels made up of low, narrow, sloping passageways. It differs from Derinkuyuhe in that is arranged around the ventilation shafts which bring in air. Early inhabitants chose to live some of the time underground as protection against the heat and the marauding tribes who regularly passed through the region looking to attack and plunder. It is estimated that around 3,500 people once lived here.
The city was opened to visitors in 1964 although only 4 of the 8 levels are accessible. The first level was meant for stables, the second level had a church and some living areas, the third level was kitchens and storage. Current inhabitants of Kaymaklı still use parts of the underground city for storage, stables and cellars.
Derinkuyuhe and Kaymakli are a mere snapshot of the cave dwellings within Turkey, albeit they are by far the most extensive and famous. With others still being discovered who knows what may still turn up.
That said I couldn’t leave Turkey without mentioning one of the best known cave hotels in the World.
Turkey – Yunak Evleri cave hotel
Yunak Evleri is a combination of six cave houses with a total of 30 private cave rooms dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries and crowned with a 19th century Greek Mansion.
The name of the neighbourhood “Yunak” comes from the old days when women used to do all their washing and of course, socializing by the fountain located at the village square. Being by the fountain and at the Yunak was the centre of daily life before people had running water at home.
These exceptional cave houses are renovated and decorated with care and in their own distinct style while strictly respecting the local character.
West Bank – Mount Hebron
In the district of Masafer Yatta, in the southern part of the occupied West Bank, about 1,500 Palestinians in a dozen hamlets maintain a unique tradition of cave dwelling.
“We live the same way my ancestors used to. It is a very simple life; we live with the seasons, taking care of the flock, harvesting the fields. We collect water from two wells, and a power generator provides electricity,” said Mahmoud Hussein Hamamdi.
According to a Palestinian anthropologist studying these communities, the ethnic groups from the south of Jerusalem to the outskirts of Beersheba were all cave dweller communities until the 19th century.
Well, that about wraps up our blog entry on cave living in Asia. Hopefully it has whetted your appetite for the next instalment which will look at cave living in Australia.
So … Who are one foot in the cave ?
We (Danny and Josie) have spent the last 10 years living and working in the Caribbean. In 2015 we decided we wanted to move closer to family and friends so bought a cave house in the Granada region of Andalucia, Spain. We moved there full time in January 2017. Now we write about our experiences of cave living and how we are adapting to life in Spain.
We also have a Facebook page full of pictures, experiences and information that we have found useful along the way. If its your thing, you can also follow us on Instagram 🙂
5 words related to this blog entry …
Second – Segundo
Home – El Hogar
Century – El Siglo
Landscape/Scenery – El Paisaje
Hope – La Esperanza