Movies | November 23, 2021 7:30 am

The Spanish Desert Where Sergio Leone Made His Westerns Is Now a Tourist Destination

The afterlife of a iconic film location

Clint Eastwood, 1964
Clint Eastwood smoking a cigar, wearing a brown hat and poncho in a publicity portrait issued for the film, 'A Fistful of Dollars', Spain, 1964.
Getty Images

Over the course of a handful of films in the 1960s — or perhaps “a fistful of films” might be more accurate — Sergio Leone transformed the Western genre forever. Along the way, he also turned Clint Eastwood into a cinematic icon. To watch these films now is to see a distinctive vision of the Old West — but unlike, say, John Ford, Leone looked on the other side of the Atlantic for his filming locations.

For his 1964 film A Fistful of Dollars, Leone made an inspired decision — heading to Andalusia to shoot the film. As author Nick Hunt writes, “the backdrop of Tabernas — empty, arid and above all cheap — became the rugged borderland between Mexico and the United States.” That’s from his new book Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes, an excerpt from which just appeared on CrimeReads.

In it, Hunt chronicles the way the landscape of the Serrata del Marchante desert became an appealing location for filmmakers — and while Leone was the first to see the potential of making a movie there, he was far from the last. Hunt notes that everything from Game of Thrones to Patton to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has used the desert as a location.

What’s most interesting about it, however, is the way that life has imitated art in the region. Many film sets have remained in place, existing now as a tourist destination. “For a small entrance fee you can see daily cowboy shows complete with gunfights, stunts on horseback, saloon brawls and bordello girls,” Hunt writes. It’s the kind of thing you might expect to see at a tourist destination in New Mexico or Arizona — but modified into a vision of a part of history that was never quite like this.