Almeria, land of cinema
Almeria and the cinema, it’s a real love story. Vicente Zaragosa was the first to film in the city. His documentary, La Alcazaba de Almeria, was pioneering in 1943.
Soon after the Second World War, the Andalusian city became the ideal place to make films. Its heyday was the 1960s and 1970s. All the great directors used its natural settings for their greatest productions.
It should be pointed out that the filming conditions are extraordinary. It has a semi-arid Syrian-type climate. The brightness is extreme. With 3000 hours of sunshine per year, it is the brightest spot in Europe. There are only an average of 25 rainy days a year. The days are therefore long and the weather conditions optimal.
Almeria celebrates the stars
A port city between Granada and Murcia, Almeria is known for the Alcazaba – a Muslim fortress – its 25,000 hectars of plastic greenhouses, its ferries linking Morocco and the cinema.
The city celebrates the 7th art in most of its streets. Moreover, every year since 2002, the International Film Festival has been held in November and since 2011, the Western Film Festival. In the same year, a historic house in the northeast of the city was restored to house the Maison du cinéma. Within its walls, visitors can discover objects, posters and costumes from films shot in the city. It should be pointed out that this house, before its renovation, saw many stars pass through it: Peter O’Toole, John Lennon, Yul Brynner, David Lean…
Without copying its Hollywood big sister, the organizers of its events have also designed a Walk of Fame. In this alley of celebrities, a score of stars adorn the street. From Eduardo Fajardo (Django) to Sophia Loren (Bianco, rosso, etc.), Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia), Ridley Scott (Exodus), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian), Max von Sydow (March or Die), Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and Catherine Deneuve (March or Die), the stars shine.
Patton, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Indiana Jones…
Inside the city, many films were shot. The first blockbuster to install its cameras there was Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. Alcazaba was there in majesty as its enclosure is magnificent. Built from 955 on the orders of Abd al-Rahman, this defensive citadel was later enlarged under Almanzor and Al-Jairan.
The following year, Elizabeth Taylor made the city shine in the world. In Cleopatra, she crossed the city accompanied by hundreds of extras. The Alcazaba seems to be one of its most beautiful assets for the queen of Egypt. In 2017, the fortress welcomed Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot for the blockbuster Wonder Woman 1984. The walls of Jairan and La Hoya, as well as the streets of the city are also used as shots for this film.
In 1970, Franklin J. Schaffner and his teams set up their cameras in the Cathedral Square to shoot the famous liberation shots from the superb Patton film. George C. Scott (Patton) was surrounded by hundreds of extras, tanks and other armour. In the feature film, viewers could also see the Alcazaba in the background of a scene of American officers.
Nineteen years later, Harrison Ford elbows his way into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He moved to the art school on the Place Pablo Cazard for the cult scene of the Rolls-Royce of the Sultan of Hatay. Steven Spielberg would have liked to make this sequence in the famous courtyard of the Lions at the Alhambra in Granada but it was impossible to get the vehicle in. So he withdrew to this building in the Andalusian city. For the record, the ramp gave way under the weight of the car. Visitors can still see the trace of this misadventure on one of the steps whose colour is different from the others. The cloister of the establishment can be visited free of charge today.
If the city has served as a setting for many films, other places not far from the Andalusian city did the same.
The Desert of Tabernas
30 km north of Almeria stands proudly the desert of Tabernas. With its 12,000 protected hectars, it offers an infinite number of filming possibilities. Its canyons and low vegetation are very similar to those of Arizona in the United States. Less high than the American ones – only five metres – the camera angles can nevertheless accentuate their depth. For less money and for maximum sunlight, many filmmakers prefer the landscapes of Tabernas for their spaghetti westerns.
Composed of marl and sandstone, its plateaux can also be used as decor for large historical frescoes. John Millius’ Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Mad Max: Beyond the Thunder Dome by George Miller (1985) were filmed there. The Spanish technicians working on it had the production authorization to take their families away on weekends to discover the sets. Some even got into the famous car driven by Mel Gibson.
Shots in the great ravines were made for Lawrence of Arabia (1962), For a Fistful of Dollars (1964), And for a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (166), The Oilwomen (1971), Red Sun (1971), all films with Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, but also Exodus: Gods of King (2014). Two charred olive trees remain from the fire in the film that can be seen in the Castillo de Tabernas oil mill.
The desert of Tabernas also hosted the shooting of TV series such as the episode 3 of season 7 of Dr Who, entitled The City of Mercy but also Game of Thrones. The inhabitants of the region remember the dozens of elephants that were brought there for the scenes. Daenerys spends time in the city of Vaes in season 6. The teams also set up their cameras at the Alcazaba in Almeria to capture the kingdom of Dorne and Meereen.
To find the canyon used for all his blockbusters, just take the direction of Fort Bravo. In this dry sierra where the road is passable, you have to turn right, direction the Desert of the Stars. For a mile and a half, the cliffs stand proudly in front of you. The 7 Mercenaries (1960) or Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) were also filmed here.
Fort Bravo, immerse yourself in the movie sets…
On the right you go to the Desert of the Stars and on the left you can go to visit Fort Bravo. After taking the famous road of the sierra, a city of pasteboard stands in front of you.
To access it, you will have to pay 19,40€ for an adult and 9,90€ per child. With the entrance ticket, you can visit the three villages: a Mexican village, an Indian village and a Western village. The most famous westerns were filmed here. From Fort Bravo (1954) to the Grand Duel (1972), from The 7 Mercenaries (1966) to The Last of the Mohicans (1965), all the great directors have succeeded each other here.
The international aura of the place is to Sergio Leone’s credit. The director wanted to finance Texas Hollywood but had to give it up. In 1974, stuntman Rafael Molina saved the place and the scenery.
Closer to us, David Beckham shot a very western advertisement for the Pepsi Cola brand.
Cabo de Gata, Indiana Jones Beach.
Not far from Almeria, an hour’s drive to the south-east, the beaches of Cabo de Gata stand out in majesty. Attached to the municipality of Nijar, this natural park is protected since 1987. With its 29,000 hectars, it offers magnificent views of the Mediterranean.
The two beaches of Monsul and Los Genoveses have often allowed major productions to tour. Lawrence of Arabia and the famous scene of the Turkish train attack was filmed here. The technical teams had to move the rails and the train.
Patton, The Warriors of the Sun, The Mystery Wells, Terry Gilliam’s Adventures of Baron Munchausen or I Am the Revolution are set in Cabo de Gata.
The scenes of the meeting with the family but also that of the crucifixion on the tree of misfortune in Conan the Barbarian were filmed here. It should be pointed out that the film crews used Almeria a lot for this: Alcazaba was the setting for the scenes in the King’s Castle, the first city of the serpent where Conan meets Valeria was made in the old sets of the film El condor Fort (1970), the desert of Tabernas was used for the slave wheel and the scenes of the resurrection and the first battle against the men of Thulsa Doom were shot near Almerimar. Be careful though, an Ikea store is under construction on this place and may soon hide part of the cave.
But the most mythical scene filmed in Cabo de Gata is the one in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. With his umbrella, Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) frightens seagulls, which throw themselves into the cockpit of the pilot of the Nazi plane. The virgin beach of Monsul is 300 m long, preserved from any waste. Bring an umbrella and try to think you’re Indy’s father (Harrison Ford).
With 500 films on the meter, Almeria and its surroundings is truly a land of the 9th art. If you want to follow in the footsteps of your cinematic heroes, at least a week to discover some of this fabulous treasure.
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By Anthony Thibault
From the "Casimir generation", Anthony has kept (in addition to a passion for Goldorak) a taste for inventive images, experimentation and curiosity. Passionate about travel and pop culture, he co-founded Fantrippers with Nicolas Albert to share his passion with as many people as possible.