Tunisia, Star Wars And Tataouine – How Are They Linked?

Do Tunisia, Star wars and Tataouine have something in common? Well, first, we all know the popularity of Star Wars movies is unmatched. You may not know that numerous scenes have been shot in Tunisia, aka Planet Tatooine. The movies Included in the list are, The Mandalorian (The Gunslinger episode), Return of the Jedi, A New Hope, The Phantom Menace, and Revenge of the Sith,  just to name a few. 

It takes its name from a town in the south of the country, Tatooine, It appears in many parts of the Star Wars blockbusters. In the Tunisian desert, Star Wars Film sets can be seen still standing nearly forty years after the original movie was released.

There are many beautiful places in the south of Tunisia, including several oases located just near Tozeur and Gabes and Tozeur’s Mides Valley. There are many attractions in the South, but the most famous is the Star Wars film set found in a number of southern governorates. It’s easy to see why it was chosen to host the star wars franchise. It is surprising how well-connected Tunisia is. As a result of the country’s small size, travel between cities is easy.


Where is Tataouine Located? 

Tataouine location Tunisia

The city of Tataouine is located in the south, in the center of the Tataouine Governorate, it is the capital. In the area around the city, there are cave dwellings of the native Berbers. These were built for the purpose of keeping cool and providing protection, which makes the area an attractive tourist destination. There are several fortified towns nearby  with an architecture that exhibits Berber influences, like the Chenini Douriet, which is sought after by tourists.


The History of Tataouine 

Bedouin wedding, Tataouine Oasis, Tunisia
Bedouin wedding, Tataouine Oasis, Tunisia

Between 1892 and 1951, the town of Tataouine was the headquarters of a French prison military unit called the African Light Infantry Battalion.  In the years following the establishment of Tataouine by the French, a mosque was erected in 1898, then came many residential buildings.

It was confirmed on June 27, 1931, that a green meteorite with unique achondrite features struck Tataouine. Fragments weighing approximately 12 kg were discovered. There is a large amount of enstatite in the meteorite, which is an uncommon type of diogenite.

In the Star Wars film series, Tataouine was inspired by Tatooine, which served as the perfect backdrop for the movie. At the beginning of March 2015, Tataouine was reported to be used by ISIL for military purposes, but the Tunisian government later denied these claims.

In the Star Wars movie franchise, Tatooine is a desert planet. It’s a beige, arid planet that orbits around two binary stars. The planet is populated by humans and other organisms. Star Wars featured the planet for the first time in the original 1977 film, and since then, it has appeared in six Star Wars movies.

It has become the homeworld of the central character Luke Skywalker the Jedi Knight, and his father, Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker). Obi-Wan Kenobi also lives on this planet under a different name Ben Kenobi. The purpose of this was to monitor Luke’s exile after the events of Order 66 and the dark side’s takeover of Anakin Skywalker. Tatooine’s binary sunset is one of the film series’ most iconic shots.


George Lucas in Tunisia 

George Lucas in Tunisia
George Lucas, Anthony Daniels (C3PO) on the Tunisia set of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977)

The first time George Lucas visited Tunisia was in 1976. George designed Star Wars planet Tatooine by using Tunisian locations. Upon his return in 1997, he began developing the franchise’s subsequently failed sequels, retaining many of the same personnel as well as some of the original locations. These sets are still in existence and are easily accessible during a short visit to Tunisia. Star Wars is loved by many, but it wasn’t the only movie to be shot here, The Life of Brian and Raiders of the Lost Ark were also filmed in Tunisia.


The Star Wars Series in Tataouine

Decorations from Star Wars film by George Lucas
Decorations from Star Wars film by George Lucas

When Lucas first began drafting Star Wars, the planet that Luke calls home was originally called Utapau, however after traveling to Tunisia, the planet was renamed Tatooine

Initiating the genre of space opera, the Star Wars film franchise offers a series of thrilling cosmic adventures, exploring the galaxy’s strangest places on an exploratory quest to find life. While Endor’s jungles are by far the most beloved, along with Kashyyyk swamps, oddly, among the franchise’s die-hard fans, the barren desert-scape of Tatooine is more beloved than any other.

Starting the story that has developed into a media empire, Tatooine was the planet on which Luke Skywalker was found at the start of the original 1977 film, and it has since appeared in five further installments. 


Is Tataouine a Good Place for The Star Wars Universe?

Tunisia, Tataouine, Ksar sultan Ouled Soltane
Tunisia, Tataouine, Ksar sultan Ouled Soltane

There seems to be no other option better than this place. Although its name is nearly identical to that of George Lucas’ desert planet in the original film, the ancient city’s architecture has more in common with that seen in the franchise.

In addition to beautiful exterior stairs and quirky windows, these famous structures are built from adobe brick, a clay-sand-straw mixture perfectly blending into the desert scene that stretches on forever.

In Tataouine’s surroundings, similar rugged structures can be seen embedded in the terrain, which is in place of mountain ranges, cliffs, or rocky ledges. For example, the beautiful Ksour, a Saharan village fortified with rock walls, is just one of them.

Appearing as if it were an iconic, space-faring location, it makes sense why George Lucas used Tataouine as part of his initial film, bringing hundreds of characters from other worlds to life. The studio’s huge vehicles and props were transported from its rural location to the small town in the 1970s. 



Tataouine is important in film history for the Star Wars universe, which cannot be denied.

Many Westerners have grown up with Star Wars, while Tunisians are unaware of the films and are even less aware of the filming sites on their own soil. Locals don’t understand why people from all over the world are drawn to these cardboard buildings in the middle of nowhere. The tourism industry in Tunisia knows how valuable the sights are, making it easy for visitors to see them.

All You Need to Know About The El Djem Colosseum

The immediate thought when most people come across the term “Colosseum” is Rome. Fortunately, there’s more to life than just this Italian city and if you make the trip to Tunisia, you’ll find one that’s in equally as good condition.

el djem

The El Jem Colosseum is world-renowned, and rightly so. It’s been preserved fantastically well and while its location might almost be questionable, it makes for an excellent day trip.

When we talk about the location-factor, we’re really just suggesting that it’s all a bit random. The area is certainly very pleasant, but it’s quite remote. Few houses exist, and are seemingly replaced by thousands of olive trees. The town itself is now quite focussed around tourism; from the individual sellers who are looking to trade souvenirs to the stores which are doing the very same thing. Large buses pass in and out, while there are two car parks for those that decide to make their own way there. Suffice to say, it does attract the crowds.

The site has just one entrance and for those of you who are looking to reach it as quickly as possible, try and access it via the front. Unfortunately, you will have to venture down a steep 25m slope which can be difficult for those of you who might be wheelchair-bound or have a baby in-tow. Once you do reach the entrance, it’s quite a simple process. If you happen to be a local, it’s completely free, while for everyone else it will cost about 8 dinars.

Of course, for those of you who are already familiar with Tunisian tourism, the costs don’t have to stop there. For example, some people decide to pay 3 dinars to get access to the electronic guide.

Once you have finished with the formalities, be prepared to be enlightened. El Jem is regularly compared with the Colosseum in Rome, and it’s no surprise why. Large parts of it are accessible, and it has been preserved in a manner which means that you can almost feel as though you are stepping back in time and imagining lions and chariots gallivanting by. Back when it was first built, it had a capacity of up to 35,000 spectators. Sure, it’s current state hardly demonstrates this, but you can still sense the size of the colosseums and appreciate the beauty of what was brought to Tunisia.

The vast size of El Jem means that there are plenty of areas to explore for all, regardless of your mobility. With that being said, it is possible to climb to some very high parts of the structure, and this is something that is obviously not going to be practical for those who might have a disability or small children. On the subject of the latter, the site hasn’t specifically been designed for little people, meaning that they really should be accompanied at all times to avoid the risk of falls.

As well as the upper levels of the structure, which often receive the most attention, we should give a special mention to the other areas which can be explored. For example, there is a VIP section, which is still accessible to tourists. Elsewhere, in the centre of the structure, you can venture to the playing surface and absorb everything around you. Sure there aren’t going to be tens of thousands of people dazing at you, but on a popular day you might have thousands of tourists mulling around the structure and this can at least give an insight of what life used to be like for those competing on the centre stage.

Some areas of the structure you just have to look a little more closely at. For example, if you look at the walls in the centre of the arena, you’ll quickly find that they are constructed of marble. It is the small details like this which simply highlight the prestige that surrounds El Jem, and shows just how highly it was regarded back when it was first constructed.

We should also add a small note about how the structure has been preserved. In short, it’s impeccable. Unfortunately, a lot of people do look back and suggest that it could have been even better, had it not been for an altercation between the Turks and Mohammed Bey. This altercation resulted in several walls being blown up, with the stone then being stolen to build surrounding buildings.


What is the history of the amphitheatre?

el jem

The fact that EL Jem was the largest ancient stadium, apart from the Colosseum in Rome of course, speaks volumes about its history.

It’s at this point when many people question just why such a large amphitheatre was chosen for Tunisia. Well, if we cast our minds back a couple of thousand years, this was a country that was a big player. Alongside Rome, it was regarded as one of the most dominant places in the world. Carthage in particular was very prominent, and if we turn to the El Jem region this was major because of its olive oil trade. It was based closer to the sea than it is now, and completely independent from Rome and Carthage. This gave it a lot of leverage, and resulted in the amphitheatre heading its way.

It’s understood that the amphitheatre was first talked about in AD230 by a man called Proconsul Gordian. He would incidentally commit suicide in the structure, following his failed rebellion against Emperor Maximus.

It was created to both entertain the public, and enter as a centre for politics. In relation to the former, this meant that it attracted people from afar as the capacity of the arena was significantly higher than the local population. As such, when sporting, civic or judicial functions were held, people travelled from a long way to see them.

One of the most interesting elements of the amphitheatre is the way in which was designed. Those behind it wanted it to reach capacity quickly, whilst also empty quickly. To do this, they created various passages that meant people could quickly find and access exit routes.


The Festival of El Jem

el djem festival

On a slightly more modern note, we have to give a mention to the Festival of El Jem. If you happen to be visiting the local area around the time that this is being held, then it is most definitely worth a visit.

In short, it’s all about classical music. Thousands of spectators flock to it every year and it really is a way to celebrate not just the music, but also how the amphitheatre can still be used very well to this day.


The fine print

All in all, El Jem is certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. Fortunately, even though it might be located very remotely, it is easily accessed. Most hotels will offer tours that take you to it, while renting a car is easy and will only take an hour from the likes of Sousse or Mahdia.

A slight point should be made on the climate. Depending on the time of year that you visit, it can vary considerably. Due to its open nature, it can either be exceptionally hot or cold, so make sure you take this into account as you pack for the day trip.

El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia

Djerba has become renowned for its tourism over the years and anyone who does visit this area will most likely be tempted by the El Ghriba Synagogue.

El Ghriba synagogue djerba tunisia

This is regarded as one of the most holy attractions in the whole of Tunisia and is actually the most famous of around twenty synagogues and prayer houses that are based around Djerba.

Past visitors to the synagogue are blown away by its beauty, charm and history. Bearing this in mind, we’ll now take a look at some of the history of the attraction and showcase what it’s all about.


What are the beginnings of the synagogue?

Unsurprisingly, there is more than one tradition that attempts to explain the beginnings of El Ghriba Synagogue.

The main one focusses around the establishment of one of the early Jewish settlements on the Island of Djerba. It’s understood that a group from the destroyed First Temple of Jerusalem brought a door and a stone from the alter of the temple in 586 BCE, which contributed to the construction of this synagogue.

There is at least some substance to this tradition, considering the fact that a stone is incorporated into one of the arches of the synagogue which is supposedly from this group of settlers.

Of course, this isn’t the only tradition. Another one suggests that the synagogue was built at some point during the first half of the 19th Century, with the site previously occupying a cabin that housed a beautiful, yet mysterious, young girl who had never been accepted by the locals.

It is suggested that when the girl died in a fire, the Jews of Djerba labelled her as a saint and built the synagogue in her name, where she once resided.

The final tradition is a slightly alternate version of the previous one and again focusses on the same girl. This time it suggests that she was a Jewish refugee who had arrived from Israel, bringing a Torah scroll and stone from the Temple of Jerusalem in the process.

When she arrived at the site, she is said to have died from exhaustion from her travels and the synagogue was therefore built in her memory.


How is the synagogue structured?

el griba

History suggests that the synagogue was built at some point during the second period of the 19th Century. While some traditions may suggest otherwise, the state of the site indicates that it previously housed another structure.

There are some historical anecdotes which indicate that something else existed in the early 16th Century. It was at this point that it was apparently destroyed by the Spanish military, only to be re-constructed at some point in the century.

The synagogue is structured like a lot of others in the area; boasting an inner courtyard and rooms which are constructed on arches and columns.

The nearby buildings were once used as accommodation for the pilgrims, with one of these only being erected in the early 1950s.

Other notable comments about the structure of El Ghriba Synagogue are that it doesn’t have an open-air praying hall. This is in stark contrast to a lot of other synagogues in the area, with El Ghriba having two that are both covered.

It’s understood that one of these may have once been an open courtyard which was then converted to a roofed room due to the high volume of people that used it. The two praying halls are linked by three arches.

The number of windows inside El Ghriba used to be significant; with twelve existing as this symbolised the twelve tribes of Israel.

However, if you are to visit the synagogue now, you will now see many more. This is due to recent renovations which have increased the size of the building.

Another interesting fact regarding the construction of El Ghriba is the two rows of columns which divide the main praying hall into three aisles. Quite interestingly, the final column is missing, with some under the belief that it was never constructed. Many believe that this is an act of remembrance in relation to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.


How is the synagogue managed?

el ghriba djerba

It goes without saying that the synagogue is one of the most important sites in the whole of Tunisia, and is therefore strictly managed.

Since the end of the 19th century, it has been managed by an independent administrative committee. While the upkeep of the synagogue is something that obviously falls within their remit, their main priority is to organize the pilgrimage to El Ghriba. This isn’t just for a religious perspective either; the pilgrimage is a huge source of income and has been for many years.


The annual pilgrimage

annual el gheriba djerba

Following on from the above, the annual pilgrimage is something that El Ghriba Synagogue is mainly renowned for. It takes place during Lag Ba’Omer, with the festivities commencing on 14 lyar right the way through to 18 lyar.

The dates are significant for two reasons; the first is that the day of commencement coincides with the death of Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNess, while the end day is the remembrance day for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

While the pilgrimage will involve visits to numerous prayer houses through the area, the visit to the synagogue is regarded as one of the most crucial parts of the festivities.


Tourism and the modern day synagogue

Unfortunately, while the synagogue is a spectacular and undoubtedly holy attraction, it has been through some tough times.

It’s no secret that Djerba’s Jewish community is dwindling and this has resulted in some of the remaining Jews being targeted by locals who have differing religious views.

There was an attack at the Simchat Toah festival in 1985, which resulted in three people being killed. More recently, in 2002, a suicide bomber killed 21 people after driving a gas truck near to the perimeter.

Nevertheless, the synagogue still attracts a healthy number of tourists and is seen as one of the key attractions of Djerba. Many are intrigued to its history and architecture and some will come from all over the world just to see it.