Carved in the rock: amazing cave houses in China

5 June 2016 |

Sanmenhi City, Henan Province in Central China, has an amazing centuries-old tradition: people dig their cave houses in the ground. The amount of this types of dwellings reaches 10 thousand; more than 30 mln people live there.


These cave houses are called yaodong or “house cave”. Six generations of Chinese have been living here for more than 200 years.


Yaodong are related deep to the Age of Bronze when people lived in deep pits and earth-houses.


More than 4 thousand years ago people started to dig caves to live in. Soil in this region is boggy and solid so there is almost no shrinkage. Usually the cave houses are dug in the hills.


It’s cheap and easy to built houses in these caves. The cave is 3 meters wide, 3 meters high and 20 meters deep. The entrance of each cave is directed to the south – this provides the houses with daylight illumination. Some caves have stone and brick walls and they’re considered more beautiful.


Yaodong’s shape and dimensions vary depending on location. Structures feature useful characteristics like good soundproofing, seismic resistance and energy save. It is cool in summer and warm in winter inside yaodong.


There is a large range of interiors of the caves. Some families live in 2 or 3 level houses. Residents sleep in special beds called kan. They cook in stoves. Often the walls around kan are covered with drawings and paper cuttings. Historians say this is not only about decoration – this is about protection of the bed linen: paper prevents it from touching the walls.


Today the houses are modernized; many of them have electricity and other facilities. That’s why yaodong attract more and more tourists. Many families set up their caves to receive the guests: in particular, replace traditional kans by beds. The caves also have water closets and necessary household items. Yaodong are very clean and tidy and have everything a house needs for comfortable living.


There is the largest cave structures complex in the world: 8 rows include about 300 rooms. The walls are covered with farmers’ drawings; the windows are covered by paper cuttings; there is also a stone mill, a table and chairs in front of each cave. Everything breathes a special country color.



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