Part of the occasional Sahara A to Z series
Hang around long enough and you’ll get the full set
People ask: where is the front cover of your Morocco Overland book?
Gara Medoaur, I say, though I’ve never actually been there. A distinctive outcrop just north of the N12 to Rissani, the epic cover was shot by desert trucker Marc Heinzelmann with a drone, something that’s tricky to smuggle in these days.
Despite appearances, Gara is not an ancient volcano – the near-horizontal sedimentary strata give that away. Time and again I hear or read of people attributing the desert’s dramatic formations to igneous processes, though you get those too.
But Gara sure looks good and like so many isolated hills in Morocco, large and small, it was used as a strategic natural fortress and observation post from a time a millennium ago when nearby Sijilmassa, was a northern terminus of the medieval caravan trade from Timbuktu.
Inside Gara’s ‘crater’, shallow ravines were dammed to collect water and there are long eroded remains of dwellings (above). In later years it’s said it was a Portuguese prison, a similar enclosure for slaves, or just a storehouse.
The site rose to fame with the release of the 1999 film, The Mummy for which a ramp was built up through the ancient breached wall on the southern side. Thereafter, it grew to become a destination for tourists as well as other films and commercials – as the current Wiki page laments. ‘Been there 15 days ago, we couldn’t stop, just turn back and go. A tourist trap unfortunately…’ says a recent comment. Looks like I’ve missed my chance again.
But unlike nearby Todra Gorge, you can see why it’s uniquely compelling. Not only does it resemble an impressive natural ‘volcanic’ fortress – a Bond producer’s dream – but from the rim you get a great view across an arid desert plain as well as a killer viewpoint spot perched on the exposed crag.
Besides The Mummy (1999), off the top of my head Gara has featured in several films and product promo videos seeking to evoke the arid Saharan wastes.
Here’s my list with vid clips below. Did I miss some? Probably.
- Spectre (Bond movie, 2015)
- Zero Zero Zero (Sky, 2018; Better than average drug cartel drama)
- The Forgiven (2022; dire yuppie nightmare set in the desert)
- Rouge Heroes (BBC, 2022; SAS desert origins)
- KTM 790 Adventure (launch promo vid; 2019)
- Yamaha XT700 Tenere (launch promo vid; 2019)
- Land Rover Defender (TV advert 2022)