Gara Medouar – The Spectre volcano lair that isn’t a volcano

gara medouar
Still of Gara Medouar as seen in "The Mummy" (1999) © 1999 Universal Pictures

Bond villains have had some quite impressive lairs during the long history of the Bond films – from the volcano in “You Only Live Twice” to the underwater base Atlantis in “The Spy Who Loved Me” or even the Space Station of Sir Hugo Drax in “Moonraker”. While the latest Bond film “Spectre” features some truly magnificent locations, the volcano lair of villain Oberhauser does not possess the significance of earlier evil hideouts and is only seen briefly in its 20 minute screentime. Moreover, a recent analysis of the area reveals that Gara Medouar isn’t a volcano at all!

gara medouar
Gara Medouar crater as seen in SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved

Located just 26 minutes outside Erfoud in Morocco in the Errachidia Providence, Gara Medouar is actually a rock formation, a remnant of Cambrian/Devonian sediments as a recent study by the Institute of Geology and Hydrogeology of the Neuchâtel university in Switzerland revealed. You can find the report here and a geographical map here (in French).

Gara Medouar has actually appeared in other films before, most notably the 1999 adventure film “The Mummy” and its sequel “The Mummy Returns” (2000) where it was used as the ancient Egyptian city of the dead “Hamunaptra” in the spring of 1998. Nicknamed “the Portuguese Prison”, Gara Medouar once provided caravans with shelter during sandstorms and was later used as a base for the moroccan military for many years. At one point in its history, the formation was also used as a temporary holding area for slaves being sold from Africa to Portugal. The southern rim had been blown open with the loose stones being used for the construction of the 100 meter long entrance wall which stands 7-8 meters tall and is 2 meters thick. The u-shaped Gara Medouar has an impressive elevation of 858 meters.

gara medouar
Still of Gara Medouar as seen in “The Mummy” © 1999 Universal Pictures

Many legends surround the rock, including one that might have actually inspired the scriptwriters of “Spectre”. During the 1950’s it was reported, the formation contained an inscribed stone as well as a mysteriously vibrating metal object stuck in the ground that could not be removed. However, nothing of that sort has ever been found. Through the heavy use in film and frequent visits by tourists in the area, the vast natural fortress is today littered with plastic bottles and plaster remains from constructions needed for filming.

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Satellite image of the Gara Medouar crater

When you think, this remote location in Morocco doesn’t have a Bond connection beside its appearance in “Spectre”, you will be surprised to learn that it was also used as a filming location for “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (2010) for which it served as the Valley of the Slaves. None other than Bond Girl Gemma Arterton (Strawberry Fields in “Quantum of Solace”) enters through the wall entrance together with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a minor connection but a neat coincidence.

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Still from “The Secret of the Sahara”

The location was also heavily used in the 1988 Italian-German TV miniseries “The Secret of the Sahara”, starring Michael York, Andie MacDowell and Ben Kingsley. The miniseries, directed by Alberto Negrin, was first broadcast in 1987 in seven episodes of approximately 52 minutes each before having a limited cinematic release.

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