Star Wars in Tunisia

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I’ll come clean, I am not a Star Wars fan and haven’t seen any of the films. We had said when planning the trip “No Star Wars” but it is impossible to visit Tataouine and escape Star Wars. 'Tatooine' is a corruption of Tataouine. It is big business and fans come to visit the Star Wars sites.

The following is a report on some of the places we did see and comments about one we didn’t. Apologies for any errors as I’ve used google to check what some of the places were used for.

Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata was our first taste of Star Wars. I believe this was the set for Luke Skywalker’s homestead. Huge signs inside the hotel point to “Star Wars set” and lead down a passageway past dubious toilets and a communal washing area. It took us to a courtyard with rooms off with metal doors. There was a ‘Control Panel’ on one wall and various big pipes. It looked and felt tacky. Apparently Aunt Beru’s kitchen is still there and the dining room that Lars used but we didn’t know about or find these.Tourist tat outside with a baby camel didn’t improve our impressions. It confirmed my worst fears.

Our driver was determined to take us to Ksar Ouled Soltane and I gave up saying ‘no’. Some of the slave-quarters scenes, including the home of Anakin, in The Phantom Menace were shot here. I’m glad we visited. I had expected it to be busy but to our surprise we were the only tourists around. It is a big four storey building with two courtyards. The inside surface has been restored but instead of using the traditional plaster, it was smoothed over with concrete which is beginning to show its age. The walls are covered with the wooden doorways of the ghorfas. These are reached by big staircases and there are stones set in the wall to reach doorways without staircase.

There are two small art galleries in the inner courtyard and we were approached by the owners trying to sell us water colour paintings. One was very pushy and we didn’t like his pictures. He then tried to flog us a painting on a stone but we told him it would exceed our baggage allowance. The second person was less pushy and we liked his pictures. We were allowed to look and choose at our leisure. It solved the present for Star Wars mad son-in-law. (Small pictures were 10TD, large ones 20TD and he wouldn’t haggle)

We did not visit Ksar Hadada which features in The Phanthom Menace in the scene where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan Kenobi discuss the upcoming pod-race. It also doubled as the rear of the slave quarters, and features in the scenes where Anakin’s mother hints about a virgin birth and when Anakin works on his pod-racer. Rough Guide had dismissed this as a “slapdash” restoration and the ground agent agreed with this.

A site we did visit but hadn’t realised at the time were the Yardangs in Debebcha on the western edge of Chott el Jerid. The causeway across the Chott has left the salt flats and sand dunes appear. Yardangs are eroded bits of sandstone standing above the surface which have been left as the sand dunes move. They were the backdrop for several memorable Star Wars scenes, including the famous Jedi duel between Qui-Gonn and Darth Maul in Episode I.

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