Farmers Cave

Cave House in An Wu Village, Xian
As a type of dwelling existing only in northern China, the farmers' cave dwellings in Shaanxi Province, especially in Northern Shaanxi, are unique travel destinations. In some areas of Shaanxi Province such as the Yan'an area, farmers' cave houses abound.

There are two main kinds of cave dwellings. The first type of cave dwellings are those carved out of the side of a cliff. Cliffside dwellings are often south-facing, and the facades are sometimes faced with bricks or stone. The second type of cave dwelling is built where there are no hills. In this situation, people create sunken courtyards. After digging a courtyard that is usually about 10 meters deep, rooms are dug off the main courtyard. There is a passage way to the ground. A large sunken courtyard complex, or pit dwelling, can have a courtyard as large as one hundred square meters. You may wonder what if the heavy rain starts. The smart farmers dig a dry well in the courtyard for drainage. The courtyards of cliff dwelling are usually larger than those of pit dwellings, because they are easier to create than sunken courtyards which must be excavated.

A farmer's cave is usually 5-7 meters (16.4-23.0 feet) long, 3-4 meters (9.8-13.1 feet) wide and 2-5 meters (6.6-16.4 feet) high. The cave has a semicircular door of fieldstone and windows with exquisite sash bars set like fan ribs, the most beautiful and dainty parts of the cave. Vaulted windows have beautiful designs in wooden sash bars decorated with folk paper cuttings.

A farmer's cave has several unique characteristics: Firstly, it is quiet, warm in winter and cool in summer. Secondly, its creation did not damage the environment or usurp farmland. Thirdly, It costs less than building a brick and cement house.

As early as the Neolithic Age, using wooden framework, grass, and soil, clans inhabiting the middle reaches of the Yellow River built simple shallow caves in natural earth holes in the mountains. Gradually, living in caves was a practice handed down to descendants. Today, some farmers' caves have progressed to serving as hotels featuring modern facilities. Tourists now can enjoy the advantages of both a farmer's cave and hotel.