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Thursday, June 26, 2014 (read 835 times)

We Don't Need No Stinking Movies!

by David

Eli Wallach didn't really say that line that way. In fact that is not how the line goes in the classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre from John Huston. And if there is one place in Spain where they have never turned down a movie job it has to be in the little known town of Almería. In fact, they have not turned away more than 400 opportunities.

For people who have never been to Spain, they may be surprised to see just how arid this country is. Except for the northern part of the country that borders the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic, Spain is can be very desert-like —especially in the south. In fact, there are many "deserts" that exist in Spain from the northern Bardenas Reales Desert to the southern Cabo de Gata, you will be surprised that this kind of climate actually exists in Europe.

As the saying goes: When life gives you have lemons you had better make some lemonade and that is exactly what the people have done who live in Almería which is close to the Tabernas Desert—technically the only desert on the European continent. This area of Spain has seen some of the most iconic films shot here which have injected money and jobs into what was otherwise a desolate and under developed region. For the people that live here that has worked out just fine and they would like to keep it that way.

Unfortunately the Treasure of the Sierra Madre was never shot in Spain (it was filmed near Acapulco) but there are a whole lot of other movies that have been made here. The film that probably started the movie boom was Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean found a perfect substitute for the Arabian Desert when various scenes were filmed here. As Lawrence ventured across the Middle East he was really walking a few miles from the Mediterranean coast. The Cabo de Gata desert, 20 miles away, also appeared in the movie and was used as the location for Aqaba when Lawrence and his troops reached the sea. Using hundred of locals, David Lean reproduced a beautiful Arabian coastal city in the middle of nowhere.

The next blockbuster wasn't far behind with the filming of Cleopatra in 1963. Almeria's castle fortress or Alcazaba was the home for Mark Anthony's headquarters in Greece while the Tabernas Desert was the ideal backdrop for the battles of Philipae and Pharsalus.  Considered a flop at the time, this movie ended up being one of the highest grossing movies of the 1960's. Also, Elizabeth Taylor took to the bank $7 million dollars ($29 million when adjusted for inflation) for her role as Cleopatra.

When then unknown Sergio Leone was cooking up his Dollar Trilogy he found that the best place other than the American Southwest to film a western was right in his backyard. Seeing the possibilities that the Tabernas Desert offered, he packed up his crew and went to Almería. Leone wanted an American in the lead role for authenticity and decided on Rawhide star, Eric Fleming, to star in A Fist Full of Dollars. Because of the remote location (even for Spain!) and the uncertainty of the quality of production he declined the role. Thanks to American actor Richard Harrison, who was making a career in European B-Movies, another actor was suggested to Leone; a young, tough American actor who could play the part well. That person was Clint Eastwood. The Leone/Eastwood partnership would continue with the successul and iconic movies  For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Leone would later shoot the western classic Once Upon a Time in the West there as well.

Cabo de Gata

Cabo de Gata in a scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Spielberg shot a lot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade here too. One of the scenes that you're sure to remember is when Indiana and his father (Sean Connery) go to the desert to track down Donovan and rescue their friend Marcus. They are not in Middle East. They are, in fact, in the Tabernas Desert.  Jones Sr. is captured and Indy has to take on a whole battalion of Nazi troops and a tank which famously ends up running off a cliff with Indiana aboard…or so we think. Another popular scene was shot at the nearby Cabo de Gata (remember Aqaba) when Indiana and his father are being harassed by a Nazi plane. Indiana's father inspired by Charlemagne says: "Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky." He then opens his umbrella and makes a flock of birds take flight and bring down the malevolent fighter plane.

For the last 50+ years the people of Almería have welcomed with open arms these and many other film crews and placed on the map a part of Spain that is most definitely off the beaten path.  Today, these areas are environmentally protected areas but filming is still permitted with the proper conditions being met. For those movie buffs who would like go down and follow in the footsteps of Taylor, O'Toole, Eastwood, Van Cleef and hundreds of other actors, there are three movie parks that also function as working movie sets. Take a horseback ride, catch a western show or simply have a frosty beer in an old time saloon, whatever you do you will be transported to a different time—the Old West.

Almería is a short two-hour drive from Granada and a four-hour drive from Valencia. It is located along the Costa de Almeria and has an arid climate that makes its Mediterranean waters a welcome feature. In Almeria there are many interesting landmarks to see especially the 10th century Moorish Alcazaba.

For nature lovers and eco-tourist, the Cabo de Gata is a 460 square kilometer natural park with some of the few remaining undeveloped beaches in Spain. There are several remote villages within the park that preserve the traditional production of arts and crafts that have sustained these places over the years.

Keywords: treasure of the sierra madre,almeria,almeria spain,cabo de gata,tabernas desert,spanish desert

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