Excavated from the slopes of steep hills and gorges, the caves and cave dwellings do not follow a pre-established layout. Their design is determined simply by the topographical characteristics of their location and their orientation to the sun. There are no streets as such, and the only urban delimitations are gullies and watercourses. More modern constructions, with adjoining façades and outbuildings, can be found next to other older traditional ones, but all the caves boast slender whitewashed chimneys, placetas (small open spaces or squares around which the caves are built), and porches with vegetation. However, the only way to see what they are really like is to actually go inside, passing through their public exteriors to discover the more intimate and private areas.
Underground architecture is basically the result of men’s search for a type of habitat which was adapted to both their environment and activities . Thus, the characteristics of the terrain in which excavations were carried out were essential. Sometimes it was possible to take advantage of the action of natural forces whilst at other times it was necessary to resort to human activity .
As is the case in the Guadix y El Marquesado and Baza-Huéscar: El Altiplano, districts, caves are located in arid or semi-arid areas, near to rivers or watercourses, but never in areas that are liable to flooding. Rather than occupying fertile land, they are commonly situated on slopes, on the edge of gorges or in small hillocks. The best type of terrain for excavation is that which is made up of soft materials which can be easily hand-hewn with a pick, but at the same time is compact to guarantee solidity, and impermeable so as to avoid water leakages and dampness. The most commonly used areas are those containing clays, marls, conglomerates, soft sandstones, limestone, sand, tuffs, and loess.