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Midès

OVERVIEW

Site: Ancient Midès

GPS: 34.406692, 7.920470

Location: Tozeur Governorate (southwest Tunisia)

Description: Ruins (pre-Roman era)

Star Wars recce:
Episode I Tunisia (December 1995)

Source: Original recce photograph

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Espa spaceport | various elements

Star Wars connection discovery:
Galaxy Tours (22 November 2020)

Challenges: Midès’ remote mountainous setting less than 1 km from the Algerian border seemingly presented too many logistical challenges, likely resulting in only minimal consideration to transform the hillside ruins into fictional Mos Espa.

Canyon: Tunisian tourism circles frequently identify the canyon below ancient Midès as “Star Wars Canyon,” inaccurately confusing this unique landscape with Maguer Gorge (Jebel Sidi Bouhlel). This misinformation is likely tethered to the popular claim that the Midès area served as inspiration for various Mos Espa podrace canyonland CGI elements.

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 more than 500 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. Reynolds took the recce photo from a vantage point approximately 45 meters southeast of the ruins along the edge of the sloping bank directly next to the ravine. 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.”

Midès’ remote mountainous setting less than 1 km from the Algerian border seemingly presented too many logistical challenges, likely resulting in only minimal consideration to transform the hillside ruins into fictional Mos Espa. Tunisian tourism circles frequently identify the canyon below ancient Midès as “Star Wars Canyon,” inaccurately confusing this unique landscape with Maguer Gorge (Jebel Sidi Bouhlel). This misinformation is likely tethered to the popular claim that the Midès area served as inspiration for various Mos Espa podrace canyonland CGI elements. Despite no enduring effort to preserve the ruins, views of the cliffside south wall at the site remain more or less unchanged since the 1995 recce.

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Ksar Ouled Soltane

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Soltane

GPS: 32.788346, 10.514549

Location: Ksar Ouled Soltane village, Tataouine Governorate (southeast Tunisia)

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

Star Wars recce:
Episode I Tunisia (December 1995)*

Source: Correspondence with Philip Vanni (Star Wars tourism pioneer)

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Espa | slave quarters

Pending: Although final confirmation is still pending, layered first- and second-hand verbal evidence suggests that Ksar Ouled Soltane—one of the most popular Tunisian ksour—was probably scouted in December 1995 or possibly during a subsequent pre-production recce in 1996. Located deep in the Tataouine region far from all major roads, the extreme remote position of the site likely resulted in only minimal consideration for Episode I production.

Correction: Despite consistently circulated misinformation dating back to 1999, Ksar Ouled Soltane 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.

*Visual confirmation pending. No recce photographs or sketches from Ksar Ouled Soltane are known to exist.

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 meters) 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 meters) 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 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.

Located deep in the Tataouine region far from all major roads, the extreme remote position of Ksar Ouled Soltane—one of the points of appeal for McCallum—likely resulted in only minimal consideration for Episode I production when weighed against the spectrum of logistical challenges of filming at the site.

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Ksar Ouled Debbab

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Debbab

GPS: 32.869731, 10.381757

Location: Ksar Ouled Debbab village, Tataouine Governorate (southeast Tunisia)

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

Star Wars recce:
Episode IV Tunisia (November 1975)

Source: Original recce photographs & recce sketch

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Eisley | slums street

Star Wars connection discovery & follow-up:
Galaxy Tours (5 March 2021 & 29 May 2022)

More Mos Eisley (almost): For roughly a six-week period (mid-November 1975 to early January 1976), Ksar Ouled Debbab was locked in as a second fictional Mos Eisley location in Tunisia (paired with Ajim). Due to budget constraints and logistical hurdles associated with filming at a site located so far south in the Tataouine region, the Mos Eisley slums street scene envisioned for Ksar Ouled Debbab was replaced in the fourth draft (1 January 1976) with scene 48 [Ben: “These are not the droids you’re looking for”] to be shot in Ajim. Gary Kurtz (producer) confirmed in a department heads meeting on 23 January 1976 that this script change was final, eliminating the scene in which Luke stops his landspeeder to ask a group of “Jawas gathered around a solar heater” directions to the cantina. The decision to remove Ksar Ouled Debbab from the shooting schedule came just two months before production began in Tunisia on 22 March 1976.

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. Approximately 4 km away, the weathered peaks of Jebel Bou Louha (elevation: 648 meters), the tallest mountain range in the Tataouine region, dominate the skyline to the northwest.

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 meters), 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 second 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.

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 clientele 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 hotel room ghorfas coupled with extravagant decor, largely incongruent with the traditional design of the heritage site, controversially replaced the dilapidated granary architecture of the original courtyard. 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. A third wall was erected in the second (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 eagle monument 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 second 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 pre-2004 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 only faintly recognizable.

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 as viewed from a vantage point approximately 40 meters to the southeast in the second courtyard. A distinctive archway on the southwest side of the second courtyard and distant outline of the Jebel Bou Louha mountains overlooking Ksar Ouled Debbab village are also depicted. Five groups of Jawas and a moisture vaporator cluster represent the fictional elements in the sketch.

Barry’s sketch confusingly labels the recce illustration as: “Adjim Djerba. Foume Tatahouine. Ghorfa Hotel.” This conflated combination of seemingly unrelated terms left the location of this ksar sketch unidentified for decades. “Ghorfa Hotel” is a reference to the 1970s business previously in operation at Ksar Ouled Debbab. “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 region during the location scout. Barry seemingly was not familiar with the actual name of the ksar, prompting artistic license to extend the “Foume Tatahouine” title to Ksar Ouled Debbab. The reference to “Adjim Djerba” thematically links the Mos Eisley Cantina location in Ajim to the illustrated site, which, according to the initial pre-production “Tunisian Location Schedule” (27 November 1975) listing for “Hotel Ghorfa, Foum Tathouine,” 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. Explained in this manner, Barry’s caption aligns with Galaxy Tours field work in 2022 to confirm Ksar Ouled Debbab as the site visually presented in the sketch.

For roughly a six-week period (mid-November 1975 to early January 1976), Ksar Ouled Debbab was locked in as a second fictional Mos Eisley location in Tunisia (paired with Ajim). Due to budget constraints and logistical hurdles associated with filming at a site located so far south in the Tataouine region, the Mos Eisley slums street scene envisioned for Ksar Ouled Debbab (stemming from the location scout) was replaced in the fourth draft (1 January 1976) with scene 48 [Ben: “These are not the droids you’re looking for”] to be shot in Ajim. 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 filmed at “Foum Tataouine” from the screenplay. This decision to remove Ksar Ouled Debbab from the shooting schedule came just two months before production began in Tunisia on 22 March 1976.

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Ksar Ouled Abdallah

OVERVIEW

Site: Ksar Ouled Abdallah

GPS: 33.368891, 10.436985

Location: Metameur, Médenine Governorate (southeast Tunisia)

Description: Amazigh fortified granary (18th century CE)

Star Wars recce:
Episode I Tunisia (December 1995)

Source: Original recce photograph

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Espa | slave quarters

Star Wars connection discovery:
Galaxy Tours (9 December 2020)

Courtyard: The ksar boasts one of the largest courtyards among all surviving Tunisian ksour. This defining characteristic, although impressive, likely drove the decision not to film at Ksar Ouled Abdallah in preference to the more compact, visually appealing, production-friendly layout offered at nearby Ksar Ommarsia (Médenine city), the site eventually chosen for Mos Espa slave quarters street scenes.

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 meters) 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 meters) 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. Reynolds stood north of center in the courtyard just east of the lone tree at the site to take the recce photo. 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.”

The ksar boasts one of the largest courtyards among all surviving Tunisian ksour. This defining characteristic, although impressive, likely drove the decision not to film at Ksar Ouled Abdallah in preference to the more compact, visually appealing, production-friendly layout offered at nearby Ksar Ommarsia (Médenine city center), the site eventually chosen for Mos Espa slave quarters street scenes. Interestingly, both ksour are situated along the major east-west access route in the heart of the Médenine region and Ksar Ouled Abdallah receives drastically less foot traffic, reinforcing the notion that courtyard size, shape, and style were the decisive factors.

The beam light featured in Reynolds’ photo above the wide-entrance top row ghorfa has been replaced/moved to the side of the same ghorfa. With the exception of this small detail, the ksar northwest wall (despite the lack of any real effort to preserve the site) remains more or less unchanged since the 1995 recce.

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Kala’a Guermessa

OVERVIEW

Site: Kala’a Guermessa

GPS: 32.986201, 10.251390

Location: Guermessa, Tataouine Governorate (southeast Tunisia) 

Description: Amazigh mountain citadel (7th century CE)

Star Wars recce:
Episode I Tunisia (December 1995)

Source: Original recce photograph

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Espa spaceport | various elements

Star Wars connection discovery:
Galaxy Tours (10 February 2021)

Isolation: Although arguably more impressive than Kala’a Chenini, Kala’a Guermessa receives comparatively very few visitors, creating a palpable sense of remote isolation framed by its two peaks of assorted ruins engulfing the stand-alone Sidi Hamza Marabout.

Challenges: The remote location of the site paired with the relatively steep ascent to access the ruins on both peaks likely resulted in only minimal consideration to transform Kala’a Guermessa into fictional Mos Espa.

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. All three locales “orbit” around Tataouine city.

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

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 multiple layers of fortified subterranean (troglodyte) structures into the sloping strata (limestone, clay, marl, and dolomite) of two adjacent peaks (ca. 355 meters apart) strategically located on the northern end of the Jebel El Hadada mountain range (elevation: 548 meters) 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 (dedicated to the 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.

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 multiple layers of fortified subterranean (troglodyte) structures into the sloping strata (limestone, clay, marl, and dolomite) of two adjacent peaks (ca. 355 meters apart) strategically located on the northern end of the Jebel El Hadada mountain range (elevation: 548 meters) 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 (dedicated to the 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. Reynolds stood along the footpath on the north side of Ras Oum Moutmana approximately 30 meters southwest of the Sidi Hamza Marabout to frame the recce photo. 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.”

The remote location of the site deep in the Tataouine region paired with the relatively steep ascent to access the ruins on both peaks likely resulted in only minimal consideration (at best) to transform Kala’a Guermessa into fictional Mos Espa. Despite no enduring effort to preserve the ruins, views of the north peak west-side slope at the site remain more or less unchanged since the 1995 recce.

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Kala’a Chenini

OVERVIEW

Site: Kala’a Chenini

GPS: 32.912024, 10.263603

Location: Chenini, Tataouine Governorate (southeast Tunisia)

Description: Amazigh mountain citadel (late 12th century CE)

Star Wars recce:
Episode I Tunisia (December 1995)

Source: Original recce sketch

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Espa spaceport | various elements

Star Wars connection confirmation:
Galaxy Tours (5 August 2022)

Tourist attraction: Kala’a Chenini, marked by the whitewashed Al-Farajeen Mosque as the distantly visible landmark for the bustling ancient mountain village, remains one of the most visited sites on the tourism circuit in southern Tunisia.

Challenges: The popularity of the site coupled with its remote location and the relatively steep ascent to access the ruins likely resulted in only minimal consideration to transform Kala’a Chenini into fictional Mos Espa.

Canon reference: The name Chenini is associated (since 2015) with one of the three moons of fictional Tatooine. Nearby Guermessa and Ghomrassen represent the names of the other two moons. All three locales “orbit” around Tataouine city.

Accessibility: Easy; foothills terrain; paved roads; parking area (32.911507, 10.263003) in close proximity; low-impact uphill hike (ca. 215 meters) on marked path to central area of the site.

SITE

Seeking refuge from the dominate Arab Hilalian tribes, the Zenata tribe erected in the late 12th century CE the ancient mountain village as a defensive kala’a (Arabic: “citadel” or “fortress”), digging multiple layers of fortified subterranean (troglodyte) structures into the sloping strata (limestone, clay, marl, and dolomite) of an isolated curved peak (ca. 830 meters long) that extends from the northwest side of Jebel Charenn (elevation: 644 meters), the second tallest mountain range in the Tataouine region. Family-specific ghorfa chambers, forming a cliffside ksar complex for crops storage, represent the oldest fortifications at Kala’a Chenini. An excavated inscription dates one of the ghorfas to 590 AH (1193/1194 CE); the first ksar structures were certainly built years/decades earlier. Although the fortified dwellings at Kala’a Chenini have not been inhabited for centuries, some of the ancient ghorfas continue to be used as grain storage depots by Zenata families.

Kala’a Chenini is one of the most popular sites on the tourism circuit in southern Tunisia. Al-Farajeen Mosque, a compact whitewashed structure placed prominently in the approximate center of the curved Kala’a Chenini peak, functions as the distantly visible landmark for the ancient mountain village. The steady mix of local and touristic activity at the two-storey Café Haute Chenini, situated just southeast of the mosque, injects a relaxed yet pulsating energy into the surrounding cliffside subterranean ruins. This unique atmosphere starkly contrasts the abandoned silence that prevails at Kala’a Guermessa, located roughly 8.5 km to the northwest.

SITE

Seeking refuge from the dominate Arab Hilalian tribes, the Zenata tribe erected in the late 12th century CE the ancient mountain village as a defensive kala’a (Arabic: “citadel” or “fortress”), digging multiple layers of fortified subterranean (troglodyte) structures into the sloping strata (limestone, clay, marl, and dolomite) of an isolated curved peak (ca. 830 meters long) that extends from the northwest side of Jebel Charenn (elevation: 644 meters), the second tallest mountain range in the Tataouine region. Family-specific ghorfa chambers, forming a cliffside ksar complex for crops storage, represent the oldest fortifications at Kala’a Chenini. An excavated inscription dates one of the ghorfas to 590 AH (1193/1194 CE); the first ksar structures were certainly built years/decades earlier. Although the fortified dwellings at Kala’a Chenini have not been inhabited for centuries, some of the ancient ghorfas continue to be used as grain storage depots by Zenata families.

Kala’a Chenini is one of the most popular sites on the tourism circuit in southern Tunisia. Al-Farajeen Mosque, a compact whitewashed structure placed prominently in the approximate center of the curved Kala’a Chenini peak, functions as the distantly visible landmark for the ancient mountain village. The steady mix of local and touristic activity at the two-storey Café Haute Chenini, situated just southeast of the mosque, injects a relaxed yet pulsating energy into the surrounding cliffside subterranean ruins. This unique atmosphere starkly contrasts the abandoned silence that prevails at Kala’a Guermessa, located roughly 8.5 km to the northwest.

IDENTIFICATION

Archaeologist David West Reynolds, serving as the Star Wars locations specialist during the principal Episode I recce to Tunisia (early to mid-December 1995), documented the scouted sites with photographs and sketches. Reynolds released six recce photographs to Jon Bradley Snyder (author/editor) for publication in Star Wars Insider 29 (Spring 1996), leaving the remaining photos and all sketches concealed from public view. Although Reynolds assumed for decades that the unpublished recce visuals were locked away in Skywalker Ranch files as part of an Episode I “Tunisia reference kit” he had prepared for George Lucas (writer/director) and Rick McCallum (producer), a targeted search more than 25 years later through his personal archives uncovered a small cache of Episode I documents, to include his original recce sketch drawn at Kala’a Chenini in early December 1995.

Reynolds posted the “Prequel Location Scouting” sketch, clearly labeled as “Chenini,” on 24 April 2022 via Instagram (account: archaeology.of.star.wars). The sketch depicts the front and northeast side of Al-Farajeen Mosque folded into a picturesque display of background hilltop ruins. Reynolds stood approximately 15 meters southeast of the mosque entrance to frame the drawing. Replicating this exact positioning is no longer possible due to the post-1995 construction of a large elevated platform upon which rests the café, outdoor sitting areas, a cell tower, and a water storage tank.

The popularity of the site as a high-traffic tourist destination coupled with its remote location deep in the Tataouine region and the relatively steep ascent to access the ruins likely resulted in only minimal consideration (at best) to transform Kala’a Chenini into fictional Mos Espa. Despite no systematic effort to preserve the ruins, views of the mosque and surrounding ancient structures remain more or less unchanged since the 1995 recce.

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Hanout el-Aouina

OVERVIEW

Site: Hanout el-Aouina workshop

GPS: 33.882018, 10.855994

Location: Houmt Souk, Médenine Governorate, Djerba island (Tunisia)

Description: Djerban wool weaving workshop (abandoned) (18th century CE)

Star Wars recce:
Episode IV Tunisia (November 1975)

Source: Original recce photograph

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Eisley | Cantina (exterior)

Star Wars connection discovery:
Galaxy Tours (13 May 2022)

Name: Built in the 18th century CE by the Seoud family, the name Hanout el-Aouina in Tunisian Arabic means “the plum workshop,” suggesting the presence of a prominent plum tree in the immediate vicinity in former times.

Limited space: Situated in a compact area along the busy Avenue Habib Bourguiba near the Houmt Souk city center, securing adequate production space at Hanout el-Aouina would have been highly problematic, suggesting that likely only minimal consideration was given to transform the workshop into the Cantina.

Houmt Souk: Although unconfirmed, several unidentified recce photos from John Barry’s collection might possibly conclude that the Episode IV recce team also scouted various market streets inside the Houmt Souk city center in the general vicinity of Hanout el-Aouina.

Accessibility: Very easy; city location; paved roads; street parking (33.882034, 10.856110) in close proximity to the site along C117 (main north-south access road in center Djerba); interior not accessible.

LOCATION

Houmt Souk (Arabic: “market neighborhood”), the Djerban capital, is located in the northwest sector of the island approximately 7.5 km east of Djerba-Zarzis Airport. Historically tethered to a Roman settlement called Gerba (alternately: Griba), Houmt Souk was founded as the island’s commercial market and remains Djerba’s lively commercial hub. At the city center is the souk with two qaysarriya (roofed bazaars) reserved for the most expensive goods and several key historical landmarks, to include Sidi Brahim Jomni Mosque, Al-Ghorba Mosque, the Mosque of the Turks, and the Mausoleum of Sidi Abdelkader, which couples as the office for the Association pour la Sauvegarde de l’Ile de Djerba (ASSIDJE). The city is divided into four districts: Taourit and Essouani in the north; Boumellel and Ejjouamaâ in the south.

Borj El Kebir (alternately: Borj El Ghazi Mustapha), the coastal Houmt Souk fort constructed in 1289 by Roger de Lauria (Aragonese king of Sicily), is linked to Ottoman naval dominance at the Battle of Djerba. In a matter of hours on 11 May 1560, the Ottoman admiral Piyale Pasha handed a crushing defeat to a Spanish Armada coalition positioned along the northern Djerban coastline. A significant grouping of Spaniards (accounts range from 500 to 5,000 sailors) retreated to Borj El Kebir and were reportedly massacred inside the fort. The Ottomans reportedly erected a pyramid of Spanish skulls at the fort to commemorate the victory. The skulls stood in place until the governing Turkish Bey, seeking to appease European diplomats, buried the mound in 1848.

SITE

The Hanout el-Aouina workshop with a small west-side adjoining courtyard is located less than 1 km northwest of the city center souk along the busy Avenue Habib Bourguiba (part of the C117 access road) in northern Houmt Souk. Built in the 18th century CE by the Seoud family, the name Hanout el-Aouina in Tunisian Arabic means “the plum workshop,” suggesting the presence of a prominent plum tree in the immediate vicinity at the time of construction. The Seoud family owned and operated the wool weaving workshop up until at least the late 20th century CE. The historical value of the now-abandoned workshop is easy to overlook amidst the surrounding modern apartments, shops, restaurants, and administrative buildings.

Expertise in wool weaving as a defining Djerban handicraft dates back to the Middle Ages. Traditional wool weaving workshops—whether stand-alone or connected to menzel and/or mosque complexes—are numerous on the island. The unique Djerban weaving workshop design typically consists of (1) matching front and rear pentagon-shaped facades with parallel vertical walls, (2) one entrance access (front facade), (3) a vaulted concave roof often lined with five ghorfa-like vaults on each side, and (4) five external buttresses paired with window openings on each side wall. The architectural composition of Hanout el-Aouina incorporates all elements of this typical Djerban design.

IDENTIFICATION

John Barry (production designer) used Kodak Tri-X panchromatic photographs and hand-drawn sketches to document the various locations scouted during the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. Over 30 negatives from Barry’s collection of recce photos have been released via official publications or Star Wars community online platforms. No names or specific identifications are associated with any of the negatives.

Multi-faceted research confirms that one of Barry’s recce photos depicts the Hanout el-Aouina workshop from a vantage point close to Avenue Habib Bourguiba approximately 10 meters southeast of the building entrance. Visible in the recce photo is the workshop front facade, eastern side wall, west-side courtyard, and an assortment of wool materials placed outside in the entrance area, likely as part of the production process. (The outdoor activity exhibited in the photo confirms that the workshop was operational up through 1975).

The deliberate stop at Hanout el-Aouina mirrors the interest given to the Bouregba Mosque complex weaving workshop in Sedouikech during the same recce. Occupying only limited property area amidst neighboring structures and high-traffic roads, blocking off adequate production space at Hanout el-Aouina would have been highly problematic. This suggests that likely only minimal consideration was given to use the workshop as the Cantina filming location.

Hanout el-Aouina, the first Star Wars recce site identified in Houmt Souk, remains readily recognizable, more or less unchanged since 1975 with the minor exception of a raised cement platform along the front facade. Replicating the exact angle of the recce photo is obstructed by the post-1975 placement of a large utility panel in the direct area outside the workshop used by Barry to frame the photo. Although unconfirmed, several yet-to-be-identified recce photos from Barry’s collection might possibly conclude that the Episode IV recce team also scouted various market streets inside the Houmt Souk city center.

All recce sites img

Chebika

OVERVIEW

Site: Ancient Chebika

GPS: 34.321577, 7.938975

Location: Tozeur Governorate, southwest Tunisia

Description: Ruins (Roman era)

Star Wars recce:
Episode IV Tunisia (November 1975)

Source: Original recce sketch

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Eisley spaceport | various elements

Star Wars connection confirmation:
Galaxy Tours (8 July 2021)

Key factors: Although scouted as a potential alternative to Ajim, Chebika was likely never considered a true viable option to represent Mos Eisley for several key reasons: (1) Chebika’s remote mountainous setting seemingly presented steep logistical challenges, (2) budget constraints rendered the task of dressing an entire ruins area with set decor as highly unrealistic, and (3) Ajim proved to be more practical, economical, and accessible for production.

Screenplay setting: 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).

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) from late 1975 to early 1976 in conjunction with 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 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. Post-1975 tourism developments on the south side of the ruins (viewing platform, cafe, shops) restrict the ability to exactly match Barry’s original sketch position(s) at the site.

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 relative proximity to the three Episode IV film sites 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 and budget constraints rendered the option of dressing an entire ruins area with set decor as highly unrealistic. The decision to film Episode IV Mos Eisley scenes in Ajim (rather than Chebika) proved to be more practical and economical, shaped in part by Djerba’s position as the primary travel hub to/from southern Tunisia.

All recce sites img

Bouregba Mosque

OVERVIEW

Site: Bouregba Mosque complex

GPS: 33.746187, 10.920452

Location: Sedouikech, Médenine Governorate, Djerba island (Tunisia)

Description: Ibadi complex (late 19th century CE)

Star Wars recce:
Episode IV Tunisia (November 1975)

Source: Original recce photograph

Star Wars scouted set concept:
Mos Eisley | Cantina (exterior)

Star Wars connection discovery:
Galaxy Tours (13 May 2022)

Drive-by: Bouregba Mosque complex includes a mosque, wool weaving workshop, and cemetery. The focal point of the quick drive-by recce visit was certainly the weaving workshop. The close proximity of the cemetery to the workshop likely designated the site unsuitable for filming from the start.

Accessibility: Very easy; flat terrain; paved roads; street parking (33.745817, 10.920226) in close proximity to the site along C117 (main north-south access road in center Djerba); stone wall surrounds the complex; not open to visitors.

LOCATION

Sedouikech (alternately: Seduiksh, Sadouikch, Sedouikch, Sedouikeche), located on a small plateau in the southeast sector of Djerba, is a town spanning approximately 13 km² in total area. Stemming from the medieval-era network of densely packed rural Djerban settlements, Sedouikech is defined by its menzel complexes, fish market, and wool weaving workshops. The town “center” is more or less divided in half by the C117 access road that connects Houmt Souk (roughly 16 km to the northwest) southward to the Roman-era viaduct, the only land route between Djerba and the Tunisian mainland. In conjunction with Ouirsighen, Guellala, and Ajim to the west, Sedouikech is distinguished as one of the few remaining locations on the island in which the Amazigh (Berber) language is spoken on a daily basis.

SITE

The Bouregba Mosque complex serves as the defining landmark in the Sedouikech center area. Resting on the highest point on the island, Ibadi authorities constructed the mosque and adjoining minaret in the late 19th century CE to serve both as a place of worship and a defensive vantage point for inland Djerba. The wool weaving workshop and cemetery were added to the Ibadi complex likely in the early 20th century CE.

Establishing weaving workshops next to mosques was a common practice for historic Djerba. The unique Djerban weaving workshop design typically consists of (1) matching front and rear pentagon-shaped facades with parallel vertical walls, (2) one entrance access (front facade), (3) a vaulted concave roof often lined with five ghorfa-like vaults on each side, and (4) five external buttresses paired with window openings on each side wall.

IDENTIFICATION

John Barry (production designer) used Kodak Tri-X panchromatic photographs and hand-drawn sketches to document the various locations scouted during the principal Episode IV pre-production recce to Tunisia in mid-November 1975. Over 30 negatives from Barry’s collection of recce photos have been released via official publications or Star Wars community online platforms. No names or specific identifications are associated with any of the negatives.

Multi-faceted research confirms that one of Barry’s recce photos depicts the Bouregba Mosque from the vantage point of the C117 access road overlooking the southwest corner of the complex. Barry appears to have taken the photo from inside a vehicle, suggesting only a quick pass-by stop at the complex. The focal point of the photo seems to be the weaving workshop situated between the mosque minaret and cemetery, mirroring the interest given to the Hanout el-Aouina workshop in Houmt Souk during the same recce. The close proximity of the cemetery to the weaving workshop likely designated Bouregba Mosque unsuitable for filming from the start.

As the easternmost Star Wars recce site on Djerba island, Bouregba Mosque represents the scouted location nearest to the lodging accommodations used by the Episode IV recce team in likely the Midoun Zone Touristique. Despite various structural changes/additions that have taken place at the complex since the 1975 recce, the Bouregba Mosque minaret, weaving workshop, and cemetery remain overtly recognizable, particularly when viewed over the southwest section of the post-1975 perimeter stone wall that surrounds the complex.