The 1999 Hollywood movie The Mummy is set in Egypt, but was filmed largely in Morocco. Marrakech became the Cairo of 1926, the year the story takes place, and the lost city of “Hamunaptra” was set inside a vast horseshoe-shaped geological feature called Jebel Mudawwa, or Gara Medouar, located near Sijilmasa, in the southeast of the country. Gara Medouar appeared again in the sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001. The exotic location then became the evil lair of the Bond villain Franz Oberhauser in the 2015 movie Spectre. Although Oberhauser describes his den as being located inside a meteorite crater, in reality Gara Medouar is an erosional crater.
Gara Medouar, literally “the round mountain”, is the eroded remains of a large limestone massif that, at its current state, rises 50 meters above the desert and encompasses an area of about 50 hectares. But there is no plateau. Instead, the central region is collapsed to form a valley, and the resulting circular formation is broken by a ravine that provides entrance into the heart of the massif. The interior is flat and any loose material has long been washed away, presumably by water, although there is no source of water nearby in the desert today. Most of the perimeter consists of vertical rocks with loose gravel at the bottom.
Gara Medouar’s unusual topography makes it a naturally protected site, once providing caravans with shelter during sandstorms. Later, Gara Medouar was developed into a full fortress, and at one point it became a temporary holding area for slaves being sold from Africa to Portugal. Remains of the fortress is still visible today in the form of a defensive wall built around a third of the natural perimeter of the mountain. But the most impressive is the curtain wall that goes straight across the large ravine blocking the only entrance to the massif. This wall, which is exceptionally preserved over its entire height, is 8 meters tall but at places rises to 12 meters. It is 80 meters long and 4 meters thick and has an extremely solid constitution made of limestone blocks held together with lime mortar.
Blofeld’s lair in “Spectre”
The fortress was built during the 11th-12th century by Almoravid rulers, possibly to defend the trade route that pass through the area, and also to defend the city of Sijilmasa, which was an important trade center throughout the Middle Ages. This well-protected fort with its high ground also offers far-reaching control over the surrounding area—from the heights of Gara Medouar, one can survey an area with a radius of about 50 km.
After Gara Medouar appeared in The Mummy, site became popular among tourists and off roaders, whose activities have disrupted the area and hampered recent archeological investigations.
Satellite image of Gara Medouar