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Midès

OVERVIEW

Site: Ancient Midès

Location: Tozeur Governorate / Southwest Tunisia

GPS: 34.406692, 7.920470

Description: Ruins (pre-Roman era)

Recce: Episode I Tunisia (1995)

Source: Original recce photo

Potential set concepts:
Mos Espa podrace circuit
Mos Espa marketplace
Mos Espa slave quarters street
Mos Espa slave quarters backyards

Accessibility: Very easy; highland terrain; paved roads; parking area (34.407054, 7.920464) directly at the site; optional low-impact hike along the ridge beneath the sheer rock face south of the ruins.

LOCATION

Modern Midès is a sparsely populated mountain oasis village located in the Tozeur Governorate less than 1 km from the Algerian border to the north and 3 km from Tamerza (alternately: Tamaghza), an important regional tourism center, across the Horchane wadi to the south. The modern village, easily accessible via R201 from the P16/C201 junction, was established in the aftermath of intense flooding in 1969 caused by 22 days of torrential rainfall throughout southern Tunisia. The catastrophic weather event, which reportedly killed 400 people, overflowed wadis in the region, forcing extensive property damage. Many settlements were left abandoned, to include ancient Midès. A concentration of plain-clothes police officers patrol the area to thwart any nefarious actors seeking to cross into Tunisia from Algeria.

SITE

Ancient Midès (identified as Madés by the Romans)—strategically situated about 1 km southwest of the modern village between a dense date palm grove and a steep ravine drop-off (50-60 meters high)—functioned as an Amazigh stronghold in the mountains of the arid Djerid region. Remnants of narrow streets and mudbrick structures are on display among the ancient ruins. The most impressive feature at the site is the impassable cliffside south wall: a row of fortified structures clinging to the sheer rock face of the ravine for a span of some 300 meters. The narrow ravine below, populated with unique natural monuments, contrasting colors, and dynamic shapes sculpted out of rock by river torrents of former ages, stretches for 3 km around the village as a natural defensive barrier.

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 56; top row, right-hand side) displays a wide shot capturing the majority of the ancient Midès cliffside south wall. The caption associated with the photo reads: “High above a chasm, this eerie abandoned city still keeps watch over the remote mountain passes near Algeria.” Snyder added that the team “surveyed many long-abandoned cities” in the “mountains near Algeria.”

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Chebika

OVERVIEW

Site:  Ancient Chebika

Location: Tozeur Governorate / Southwest Tunisia

GPS: 34.321577, 7.938975

Description: Ruins (Roman era)

Recce: Episode IV Tunisia (1975)

Source: Original concept sketch

Potential set concepts:
Mos Eisley Cantina (exterior)
Mos Eisley square
Mos Eisley security checkpoint

Accessibility: Very easy; highland terrain; paved roads; parking area (34.320475, 7.939072) directly at the site.

SITE

Fortified as the Roman outpost Ad Speculum (Latin: “from the mirror”), ancient Chebika, perched on a rock platform at the foot of Jebel el-Negueb less than 500 meters northeast of the modern village, was utilized as a mountain stronghold in the arid Djerid region from which to send signals by mirror to track caravans traveling to/from Tozeur. In the post-Roman era, the settlement was converted into an Amazigh mountain refuge alternately known as Ksar el-Shams (Arabic: “castle of the sun”) due to its openly exposed position. Remains of narrow streets and brick and mud structures blend the ancient village into the surrounding jagged peaks on all sides (except to the south). A steep ravine filled with date palms injects contrasting greenery to the east/southeast.

The elevated position of ancient Chebika offers sweeping views of the Chott el-Gharsa salt flats, located some 20 km to the south. A marked trail, running along the tiered retaining wall built on the eastern perimeter of the site, leads to a small waterfall tucked inside the canyon to the northeast. The 40-minute walk to the waterfall following a spring-fed stream with several pools of clear blue water is a popular tourist attraction, especially during the winter months when the spring is most active. According to tradition, the spring was formed at the point where a wandering camel carrying the body of a marabout  named Sidi Sultan came to a halt. Sidi Sultan Marabout, located near the ravine, enshrines the tomb of the Muslim holy man.

SITE

Fortified as the Roman outpost Ad Speculum (Latin: “from the mirror”), ancient Chebika, perched on a rock platform at the foot of Jebel el-Negueb less than 500 meters northeast of the modern village, was utilized as a mountain stronghold in the arid Djerid region from which to send signals by mirror to track caravans traveling to/from Tozeur. In the post-Roman era, the settlement was converted into an Amazigh mountain refuge alternately known as Ksar el-Shams (Arabic: “castle of the sun”) due to its openly exposed position. Remains of narrow streets and brick and mud structures blend the ancient village into the surrounding jagged peaks on all sides (except to the south). A steep ravine filled with date palms injects contrasting greenery to the east/southeast.

The elevated position of ancient Chebika offers sweeping views of the Chott el-Gharsa salt flats, located some 20 km to the south. A marked trail, running along the tiered retaining wall built on the eastern perimeter of the site, leads to a small waterfall tucked inside the canyon to the northeast. The 40-minute walk to the waterfall following a spring-fed stream with several pools of clear blue water is a popular tourist attraction, especially during the winter months when the spring is most active. According to tradition, the spring was formed at the point where a wandering camel carrying the body of a marabout  named Sidi Sultan came to a halt. Sidi Sultan Marabout, located near the ravine, enshrines the tomb of the Muslim holy man.

IDENTIFICATION

In his monumental work The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), J.W. Rinzler published several original concept sketches drawn by John Barry (production designer) in late 1975/early 1976 following the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. One of the sketches contains a detailed caption that clearly identifies Chebika as the illustrated location: “CHEBIKA – in mountains near TOZEUR. Alternative town to AJIM – near salt flat location.” Barry likely relied on recce photographs from at least two vantage points—southeast and southwest of the ancient village—to draw the sketch. The distinctive multi-level mudbrick reinforcement wall located on the east edge of the Chebika ruins paired with identifiable elements of the buildings above the tiered wall are unmistakingly featured in the drawing. The mountains in the sketch seem to resemble a conflated perspective of real-world peaks situated both north and east of the ruins. Barry added landspeeders, villagers, rooftop small domes, and futuristic antennas to complete the fictional Tatooine cityscape, mirroring the unique Ibadi/Amazigh architecture ubiquitously present on Djerba island, particularly in Ajim. 

Barry’s identification of Chebika as an alternate to Ajim indicates that the site was under consideration as a possible location for the Episode IV Mos Eisley city center scenes involving the stormtrooper security checkpoint and cantina exterior. Several geographic factors bolstered the case for Chebika. For example, Chebika’s proximity to the three Episode IV film site areas in the Tozeur GovernorateChott el-Djerid, Gour Beni Mzab, and Maguer Gorge—offered the possibility of centralizing almost all filming activity in the same general region. Moreover, the rugged mountainous landscape surrounding Chebika (unlike Ajim) matched the screenplay concept for a “bluff overlooking Mos Eisley spaceport,” initially introduced in the third draft (1 August 1975). Lastly, the compact size and post-1969 abandoned state of the Chebika ruins created the potential for enhanced flexibility to film both landscape-enriched wide shots and street-level close-ups. In the end, Chebika’s remote mountainous setting seemingly presented more logistical challenges than advantages. Moreover, budget constraints rendered the option of dressing an entire village with set decor as highly unrealistic.

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Ksar Ouled Soltane

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Soltane

Location: Ksar Ouled Soltane village (Tataouine Governorate) / Southeast Tunisia

GPS: 32.788346, 10.514549

Description: Amazigh fortified granary (late 17th century CE)

Recce: Episode I Tunisia (1995)*

Source: Correspondence with Philip Vanni

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

Clarification: This location, despite consistently circulated misinformation, is not a Star Wars film site

Accessibility: Very easy; foothills terrain; paved roads; parking area (32.788436, 10.515403) directly at the site entrance.

*Final confirmation pending. No known recce photos taken at Ksar Ouled Soltane are available.

SITE

Named after the Ouled Soltane tribe (descendants of the Ouled Chehida), Ksar Ouled Soltane is one of the most picturesque and widely promoted Tunisian ksour with 287 well-preserved ghorfas, numerous steep stone staircases scaling four stories high (the fifth story no longer exists), and a large assortment of mounted wooden hooks used to hoist bags of agrarian goods to/from the ghorfas. The original (west) rectangular courtyard (60 x 40 m) was constructed in approximately 1699. The outer (east) courtyard was added in the mid-19th century CE with the unenclosed east end of the space functioning as the single exterior entrance into the ksar. Both courtyards continue to serve as a central gathering point for the local community, offering only very rudimentary tourist options. The entire complex was fully restored in 1993 and enjoys wide-scale popularity as a top-ranked tourism destination in southern Tunisia.

SITE

Named after the Ouled Soltane tribe (descendants of the Ouled Chehida), Ksar Ouled Soltane is one of the most picturesque and widely promoted Tunisian ksour with 287 well-preserved ghorfas, numerous steep stone staircases scaling four stories high (the fifth story no longer exists), and a large assortment of mounted wooden hooks used to hoist bags of agrarian goods to/from the ghorfas. The original (west) rectangular courtyard (60 x 40 m) was constructed in approximately 1699. The outer (east) courtyard was added in the mid-19th century CE with the unenclosed east end of the space functioning as the single exterior entrance into the ksar. Both courtyards continue to serve as a central gathering point for the local community, offering only very rudimentary tourist options. The entire complex was fully restored in 1993 and enjoys wide-scale popularity as a top-ranked tourism destination in southern Tunisia.

IDENTIFICATION

Philip Vanni, the original Tunisia Star Wars film site explorer/preservationist, spent weeks/months in Tunisia each year from 1993-2002. In personal correspondence with Galaxy Tours in mid-February 2021, Vanni disclosed that he had met with Rick McCallum (prequels producer) along with members of the Episode I pre-production location crew in 1996 at Hotel Sidi Idriss in Matmata al-Qadimal. (Vanni consistently used the Star Wars film site hotel as his base location during his trips to Tunisia). McCallum reportedly disclosed during this meeting that Ksar Ouled Soltane was being considered as a potential Episode I film site due to its size, well-preserved condition, and remote setting (which meant a reduced number of tourists). Although not direct confirmation, this information suggests that Ksar Ouled Soltane was probably scouted either as part of the principal Episode I recce to Tunisia in early/mid-December 1995 or that of a possible subsequent pre-production recce in 1996. 

Congruently, in his Star Wars Insider 29 (Spring 1996) article (“On-Location: Tatooine”) summarizing the December 1995 Lucasfilm recce to Tunisia, Jon Bradley Snyder (author/editor) cited insight shared by Gavin Bocquet (prequels production designer) regarding locations visited during the recce that were too isolated to be “accessible” for Episode IV filming 20 years prior. This group of remote sites specifically included ksour with vaulted grain storage ghorfas “stacked up to five stories high.” Only a few ksour in southern Tunisia were built with five-story high walls. Ksar Ouled Soltane is the most famous in this category and debatably the most isolated. Although fifth-level ghorfas have not survived at Ksar Ouled Soltane, Bocquet’s statement, particularly when viewed in the context of McCallum’s comments to Vanni in 1996, adds a layer of evidence to strengthen the identification of Ksar Ouled Soltane as a probable Star Wars recce site.

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Ksar Ouled Debbab

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Debbab

Location: Ksar Ouled Debbab village (Tataouine Governorate) / Southeast Tunisia

GPS:32.869731, 10.381757

Description: Amazigh fortified granary (mid-18th century CE)

Recce: Episode IV Tunisia (1975)

Source: Original recce photographs & concept sketch 

Potential set concept: Mos Eisley slums street

Accessibility: Very easy; foothills terrain; paved roads; spacious parking area (32.869657, 10.381198) directly at the site entrance.

LOCATION

Ksar Ouled Debbab (alternately: Dabbab) is a small Amazigh village situated in the southern foothills of the Jebel Dahar mountain range approximately 9 km southwest of Tataouine city via the P19 highway in the Tataouine Governorate. The modern village shares the name of the ancient ksar, which forms the southern perimeter of the village.

SITE

Ksar Ouled Debbab is the largest ksar founded by the Amazigh Ouled Debbab tribe, which settled in the region in the early 18th century CE. The original (northwest) courtyard, formed like an irregular amphitheater (70 x 65 m), dates to approximately 1760. The ksar, associated with at least six different Ouled Debbab clans, was later extended some 230 meters to the southeast in the shape of an elongated, increasingly narrow courtyard with a single exterior entrance placed at the southeast corner of the site. The size of this architectural expansion denotes periods of significant local economic development and population growth requiring a substantial number of ghorfas (about 400 in total stacked no more than two stories high) for the storage of grain and other food staples. A unique grouping of ghorfas built in the center of the original courtyard was also added at a later date, dividing the space into an open northern area connected to a narrow southern row (complete with a distinctive archway near the southeastern end of the row). 

The ksar complex has a relatively long history as a tourism attraction linked to intermittent business investment initiatives by various managing groups dating back to the 1960s. The first documented commercial venture to offer lodging accommodations at the site, named “Ghorfa Hotel,” was in operation prior to 1980. Attempts to attract consistent cliente proved to be unsuccessful, forcing all business operations to close in the late 1990s. 

Commercial investment was revived in 2004, this time more professional and diverse in nature, offering a museum, café, restaurant, retail shop, and hotel. New ksar-inspired ghorfas (hotel rooms) coupled with extravagant decor, largely incongruent with the traditional design of the heritage site, controversially replaced the dilapidated granary architecture of the original courtyard prior to mid-2010. In addition, crews separated the two courtyards of the ksar complex by building a ghorfa-like wall (with an access door) on each side of the ghorfa cluster in the center of the original courtyard, removing the distinctive archway in the process. A third wall was erected in the southeast courtyard to isolate its most narrow section (ca. 150 meters long) along with the ksar’s original exterior entrance from the rest of the complex. These changes were amplified by the construction of an adjoining contemporary entrance area northwest of the ksar exterior filled with an oversized artificial eagle embedded in a waterfall, statues of dinosaurs and dromedary camels, and plow and amphora displays.

The Cherait Group, which acquired authorities in 2011 to conduct business operations at Ksar Ouled Debbab, serves as the current management group over the site, focusing on luxury hotel accommodations, a high-quality restaurant (with interactive events), and a regional/Islamic art museum. The entirety of the southeast courtyard remains unrenovated and presently functions as a dumping ground for assorted paraphernalia. 

IDENTIFICATION

In his monumental work The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), J.W. Rinzler published negatives (Kodak Tri-X panchromatic film) of various location scout photos taken by John Barry (production designer) during the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. No names or clear identifications were provided for any of the negatives. Multi-faceted research confirms that five recce photos combine to depict the northeast wall and north corner of the Ksar Ouled Debbab original courtyard. Comparisons with historical photos taken prior to the major structural renovations of the original courtyard proved to be critical in the process of verifying this location. The post-renovation architecture renders the Ksar Ouled Debbab recce photos otherwise unrecognizable.

An original concept sketch drawn by Barry during or shortly after the mid-November 1975 location scout provides additional evidence to identify Ksar Ouled Debbab as a recce site. The sketch depicts ghorfas on both sides of the divided original courtyard from a vantage point approximately 40 meters southeast of the perimeter of the courtyard. The distinctive archway of the courtyard and outline of the mountain range west of the Ksar Ouled Debbab village are also visible. Five groups of Jawas and a moisture vaporator cluster represent the fictional elements in the sketch.

The sketch caption labels the illustrated location as: “Adjim Djerba. Foume Tatahouine. Ghorfa Hotel.” “Ghorfa Hotel” is a reference to the business previously in operation at Ksar Ouled Debbab, proving that the hotel was functional as early as 1975. “Foume Tatahouine” (Arabic: “mouth of the water springs”) is the antiquated name formerly used for nearby Tataouine city, which, as the only major city in the vicinity of Ksar Ouled Debbab, likely served as the base location to explore the Tataouine Governorate during the mid-November 1975 location scout. The reference to “Adjim Djerba” links the Mos Eisley Cantina set location in Ajim to this recce site, which, according to a pre-production Tunisia shooting schedule (made prior to late January 1976), was slated to function as the Mos Eisley slum dwellings exterior for a scene—first introduced in the second draft (28 January 1975)—in which Luke stops his landspeeder to ask a group of Jawas directions to the cantina.

The Mos Eisley slums street scene was replaced in the fourth draft (1 January 1976) with scene 48 [Ben: “These are not the droids you’re looking for”]. Gary Kurtz (producer) confirmed in a department heads meeting on 23 January 1976 that this script change was final, eliminating the scene of the “landspeeder approaching the town with the Jawas gathered around a solar heater” intended to be shot at “Foum Tataouine.”

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Ksar Ouled Abdallah

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Abdallah

Location: Metameur (Médenine Governorate) / Southeast Tunisia

GPS: 33.368891, 10.436985

Description: Amazigh fortified granary (18th century CE)

Recce: Episode I Tunisia (1995)

Source: Original recce photograph

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

Accessibility: Very easy; flat terrain; paved roads; parking area (33.369041, 10.437368) directly at the site entrance.

SITE

Ksar Ouled Abdallah (alternately: Ksar Gueblaoui), named after the Ouled Abdallah band of the Hrarza tribe, is the largest and most important among the cluster of five historic ksour remaining in Metameur, situated in the southwest section of the modern village. (The other four ksour in Metameur are named: Ksar El Khoukha, Ksar Essouk, Ksar El Ghoula, and Ksar Ouled Meftah). Built in the 18th century CE, the west corner of the rectangular Ksar Ouled Abdallah (ca. 100 x 50 m) is adjacent to the Sidi Ahmed Lahjel Mosque complex, which contains a domed marabout dedicated to the enshrined village founder. The ksar has one exterior entrance (east corner), marked by a concrete arch, and 108 ghorfas (ca. 50 in ruins) stacked primarily two stories high (three stories in some areas) with all original access doors removed. Some 50 ghorfas along the southeast and southwest walls have been restored. In particular, the southwest wall has been converted into a low-budget inn for tourists called Hôtel les Ghorfas (alternately: Ghorfa Hotel, Hotel el-Ghorfa), offering very basic accommodations in a dozen ghorfas (with installed wooden doors) and a souvenir shop. Reportedly established in 1986, Hôtel les Ghorfas is not officially closed despite the fact that it is barely operational, lacks consistent business hours, maintains no advertising, and attracts little to no clientele.

SITE

Ksar Ouled Abdallah (alternately: Ksar Gueblaoui), named after the Ouled Abdallah band of the Hrarza tribe, is the largest and most important among the cluster of five historic ksour remaining in Metameur, situated in the southwest section of the modern village. (The other four ksour in Metameur are named: Ksar El Khoukha, Ksar Essouk, Ksar El Ghoula, and Ksar Ouled Meftah). Built in the 18th century CE, the west corner of the rectangular Ksar Ouled Abdallah (ca. 100 x 50 m) is adjacent to the Sidi Ahmed Lahjel Mosque complex, which contains a domed marabout dedicated to the enshrined village founder. The ksar has one exterior entrance (east corner), marked by a concrete arch, and 108 ghorfas (ca. 50 in ruins) stacked primarily two stories high (three stories in some areas) with all original access doors removed. Some 50 ghorfas along the southeast and southwest walls have been restored. In particular, the southwest wall has been converted into a low-budget inn for tourists called Hôtel les Ghorfas (alternately: Ghorfa Hotel, Hotel el-Ghorfa), offering very basic accommodations in a dozen ghorfas (with installed wooden doors) and a souvenir shop. Reportedly established in 1986, Hôtel les Ghorfas is not officially closed despite the fact that it is barely operational, lacks consistent business hours, maintains no advertising, and attracts little to no clientele.

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 56; center row, left-hand side) displays the distinct northwest wall of Ksar Ouled Abdallah, characterized by five columns of ghorfas stacked three stories high with a uniquely shaped wide-entrance ghorfa in the center of the top row. The last part of the caption associated with the photo reads: “This kind of architecture will be part of the look of Tatooine in the prequels.”

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Abu Miswar Mosque

OVERVIEW

Site: Abu Miswar Mosque complex

Location: Hachan outskirts (Médenine Governorate) / Djerba island (Tunisia)

GPS:33.862203, 10.821254

Description: Ibadi complex (late 9th century CE)

Recce: Episode IV Tunisia (1975)

Source: Original recce photographs

Potential set concepts:
Anchorhead perimeter
Tosche Station (exterior)

Accessibility: Very easy; flat terrain; paved roads; close proximity to airport; parking area (33.862514, 10.821451) directly at the site entrance.

LOCATION

Hachan (alternately: Hachene, Hashan), located in the northwest sector of Djerba island, is a small village spanning roughly 6.25 km² in total area. Part of the medieval-era network of densely packed rural Djerban settlements, the village is populated predominantly with historic menzel complexes, some of the oldest on the island. The “center” of the village is situated some 3 km southwest of Houmt Souk. The main access road (C116) that connects Houmt Souk to Ajim divides Hachan more or less in half.

SITE

Located along the Hachan northwest perimeter less than 100 meters south of Rue Boumessouer/Airport Road (C116E) and roughly 500 meters east of neighboring Mellita, the Abu Miswar Mosque complex (alternately: The Great Mosque, El Kebir Mosque, Miswariyya, Abi Maswar/Abu Masour/Aboumessouer Mosque) marks the approximate midpoint between Djerba-Zarzis Airport (5 km to the west) and Houmt Souk (4 km to the northeast). Documented as Djerba’s oldest mosque, the Ibadi place of worship was founded in the late 9th century CE by the charismatic Muslim teacher Abu Miswar Yasja, who migrated to Djerba from the Jebel Nafusa mountains in neigbhboring Libya. Abu Miswar solidified Djerba’s status as the uncontested center of Ibadi learning during the 10th century CE, a tradition continued by his son Abu Zakaria Fasil, who is credited with completing construction on the mosque. Despite the attributed name “Great Mosque,” the Amazigh structure, categorized as one of the inland fortified mosques on the island, is no bigger than any other Djerban mosque (ca. 18 x 17 m) and typical in appearance with windowless whitewashed walls, a protruding box-shaped mihrab niche (southeast wall), and a fort-like mini-minaret. A historic sundial in the courtyard was used to determine daily prayer times. A series of small rooms were used to house Ibadi students studying at the mosque.

IDENTIFICATION

In his monumental work The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film (2007), J.W. Rinzler published a behind-the-scenes photograph of George Lucas (director) and John Barry (production designer), presumably at EMI-Elstree Studios (Borehamwood, England), reviewing in late 1975/early 1976 the makeshift studio recce wall, composed of an an assortment of pinned photos (organized by location) taken primarily by Barry during the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. Multi-faceted research confirms that three recce photos grouped together on the wall (second column from the left, lower panel, top left-hand corner) depict the Abu Miswar Mosque complex from three different camera angles, two from the northeast section of the mosque courtyard (near the current gated entrance) and one from a vantage point some 50 meters southeast of the complex. The mosque is visible in two of the three camera angles.