The tension of a Western shootout in New Mexico, World War I desert warfare in Syria against the Ottoman Empire, escaping the Soviet regime on a train in the Russian winter… These are all iconic scenes taken from famous movies, but what do they all have in common?
Surprisingly, they were all filmed in the same corner of southern Spain during the 1960s. Amidst upheaval and change at Hollywood studios of the era, for a while, production costs were reduced significantly by shipping entire film crews and productions to this typically sunny part of Spain, which has doubled as multiple international locations through the years.
Regarded as the inventor of the Spaghetti Western genre, Sergio Leone filmed many key scenes from several famous movies around the Tabernas Desert region of Almería province. These include the classic trilogy which shot Clint Eastwood to international stardom: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966).
— Vive Andalucía (@viveandalucia) September 14, 2019
Such iconic movies have not only inspired countless later Westerns, but also a host of other entertainment mediums including video games. These include the Red Dead series by Rockstar Studios, or capturing Western Belles and Gunslinger Reloaded, a title available to aficionados who want to play online slot games at Aspers Casino that take on this now classic theme. Arguably, none of these titles would exist without the influence of Leone and the exciting movie sequences he filmed in Almería.
Entire wooden towns, ranches and other sets from the movies still exist in Tabernas. Many have even remained in regular use by production companies, who use these locations to double as the American West on the silver screen. Some are also open for visiting tourists, including Western Leone with daily summer shows, built when the director shot Once Upon a Time in the West here in 1968.
Cabo de Gata, Almería
Still considered one of the greatest movies in cinema history, Lawrence of Arabia was a lavish Hollywood production even by modern standards. Due to the high cost and difficulty of actually filming in historical locations or building massive studio sets, the province of Almería was chosen as the ideal backdrop to double as the Syrian desert.
— Vive Andalucía (@viveandalucia) September 19, 2019
According to andaluciadestinocine.com archives, production involved 1,000 extras, 750 horses, 159 camels, plus a technical crew of well over 500 people working behind the scenes. This was also the first time such a large-scale production had been filmed in the province of Almería, putting the location firmly on the map for studios and production companies for many years to come.
Near the coast, the iconic sand dunes of Cabo de Gata served as the setting for several key battle sequences. One included the production company buying entire trains and building a stretch of railway, then destroying them with explosives to capture one of the most thrilling moments of the movie as Lawrence led his forces against Ottoman soldiers. Locations from this iconic movie can still be visited today in Almería, all within easy reach of the main city.
It’s hard to imagine southern Spain doubling as the Russian Urals in winter, so some may be surprised to learn that some of the key sequences from Doctor Zhivago were shot here. Specifically, sets were built near the town of Guadix in Granada, just across the provincial border to the north of Almería. Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in the movie was aboard the train, as Yuri played by Omar Sharif sought to escape the clutches of the Soviets.
[EN] A film-like 🎬🎬 🎬 destination—did you know it was one of the scenes in the film “Doctor Zhivago”, which won 5 Oscars. ¡#Calahorra, don’t miss the landscapes! #Guadix #GuadixDeCine #WeLoveGranada #Holidays #Travel #Andalusia pic.twitter.com/GjpQOc6ifo
— WeloveGranada (@welovegranada) December 20, 2017
Interestingly, the very locomotive used in Doctor Zhivago, a Baldwin steam engine, still resides in the town of Guadix. What’s more, this beautifully preserved black loco has featured in lots of other famous movies too. These include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Clint Eastwood, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with Harrison Ford, and even Reds with Warren Beatty.
Every so often the town celebrates the little loco by taking it out for a spin, on its very own purpose-built track. Guadix also has several museums with a host of exhibits from famous movies, along with guides to locations where iconic movie scenes were actually filmed, many of which are still instantly recognizable for fans of the silver screen.
If planning a visit to the area by car, follow the A-92 route starting at Guadix in Granada province, heading southwards past La Calahorra and through the Tabernas Desert, arriving eventually at Almería city. From there, it’s a short trip along the A-7 westwards to Cabo de Gata and the surrounding natural park.