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Kala’a Guermessa

OVERVIEW

Site: Kala’a Guermessa

Location: Guermessa (Tataouine Governorate) / Southeast Tunisia 

GPS: 32.986201, 10.251390

Description: Amazigh mountain citadel (7th century CE)

Recce: Episode I Tunisia (1995)

Source: Original recce photograph

Potential set concepts:
Mos Espa slave quarters street
Mos Espa slave quarters backyards

Canon reference: The name Guermessa is associated (since 2015) with one of the three moons of fictional Tatooine. Nearby Chenini and Ghomrassen represent the names of the other two moons. 

Accessibility: Easy; foothills terrain; paved roads; parking area (32.986875, 10.252415) in close proximity; low-impact hike (ca. 250 meters) on marked path to central area of the site.

LOCATION

Modern Guermessa (alternately: Guermassa) is located in a remote area of the central Jebel Dahar mountain range 15 km southwest of Ghomrassen, a Tataouine Governorate regional administrative center. The services provided by the modern village have drawn local Amazigh Guermessi (alternately: Guermassi) tribal families to entirely abandon ancient Guermessa, situated approximately 1.5 km to the northwest.

SITE

The Guermessi tribe erected the ancient mountain village in the 7th or 8th century CE as a defensive kala’a (Arabic: “citadel” or “fortress”), digging fortified subterranean (troglodyte) structures into the sloping starta (limestone, clay, marl, and dolomite) of two adjacent peaks (ca. 355 meters apart) strategically placed high above the surrounding Ferch plain. The founding of Kala’a Guermessa is traditionally linked to a miracle of much-needed rainfall at the arrival of two marabouts to the region from Kairouan (Tunisia): Sidi Ibrahim and his servant Sidi Bando. The whitewashed Sidi Hamza Marabout (son of Sidi Ibrahim) functions as the center point of the ancient ruins between the two peaks. As peaceful relations developed between the local Amazigh and nomadic Arab tribes, the horizontally terraced kala’a fortifications on the slopes of Ras Oum Moutmana (alternately: Ras El Metmana)—the flat-topped south peak at the site—were expanded to include family-specific ghorfa chambers built in front of the fortified structures, forming a collective cliffside ksar complex for crops storage. Only the east and south sections of Ksar Guermessa have survived with some pockets of the south section partially restored. The north peak at the site is home to layers of lateral subterranean ruins.

IDENTIFICATION

Jon Bradley Snyder (author/editor) reported on the principal Episode I recce to Tunisia (early to mid-December 1995) in Star Wars Insider 29 (Spring 1996). In his article (“On-Location: Tatooine”) Snyder published photos (taken by David West Reynolds) with generic captions for several of the Tunisian sites visited during the recce. No names or clear identifications were provided for any of the visually documented sites. Multi-faceted research confirms that one of the recce photos in the article (page 57; top row, right-hand side) captures a panoramic view of the Kala’a Guermessa north peak with its unique arrangement of subterranean ruins compacted near the top of the peak and interspersed intermittently down the face of the west-side slope. The caption associated with the photo reads: “Though it looks like a matte painting, this mountain city is real, standing deep in the remote wastes of southern Tunisia.”