Shoot ‘Em Ups and Spaghetti Westerns in Tabernas, Spain: Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood
We left early in the morning to make the seven-plus hour drive from Lagos, Portugal, to Mojacar, a resort city where friends were staying in Spain’s Costa del Sol region. The toll road (the A-22) that took us along the southern coast of Portugal was smooth and sparsely populated and, after several months of driving along this stretch of road, we felt sufficiently confident to listen to an audio book while the miles passed. As usual, we traded the time behind the wheel back and forth and, with a cooler for drinks and some snacks, we only needed to make a few, short breaks. About five hours into the drive we passed north of Granada and were thrilled to see the Alhambra atop the hill in the distance which we had visited a few months earlier and wrote about here. The highway began to climb and wind through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and we spied snow on many of the higher peaks although it was almost summer. Oleander, with pink and white flowers, and bushes with brilliant yellow blossoms filled the median of the highway with vibrant color for miles. Evidently this was a major freight route because we passed uncountable numbers of long haul tractor-trailers (we’re not sure who drawled, “We’ve got us a convoy” from the old song which cracked us up) laboring their way up the slopes and braking on the downside.
Presently, we left the highway for a two-lane road; the land became more arid and the small olive groves and vineyards that we could see from the road thinned out. We passed through little villages and wondered out loud why people had chosen to live in such an inhospitable country. And then, like tech-dependent travelers everywhere, we checked our GPS and finally (a throw-back to our generation) we pulled out our road map of Spain as well to check our whereabouts.
And there we were – right in the middle of the Desierto de Tabernas, surrounded by landscape that looked strangely familiar, like something out of an old, western movie: dusty, dry with low-lying scrub brush, ravines, plateaus and mesas. In fact, the Tabernas Desert is located in Europe’s driest province, Almeria, where rainfall averages around 6 to 7 inches annually and has the distinction of being the “continent’s only true desert climate.” Evidently, we weren’t the only ones who thought of America’s southwest and old western movies as we gazed at the passing scenery because a few miles down the road we spotted a huge, honest-to-God billboard for “Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood.”
Here’s the landscape made famous by many of the old “Spaghetti Westerns,” a term widely used to describe the international films, most of which were directed by Italians and included multilingual crews and casts from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the US. In fact, between 1960 and 1980, over 600 European Westerns were made. Sergio Leone, an Italian who shot many of his movies in the Tabernas area, was the genre’s best known director and his wildly popular film-making style in the sixties made his movies international box office hits. We’d seen the three movies known as the “Man with No Name” or “Dollars Trilogy” with the up and coming star, Clint Eastwood, which included one of our all-time favorites, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” No wonder we had a feeling of déjà vu!
The sets built for many of the old spaghetti westerns were acquired by a stuntman-turned-entrepreneur, Rafa Molina, in 1977 and have been turned into a nostalgic western-style theme park called “Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood.” At the entrance gate we handed over the not-so-insubstantial fee of 35€ which included a senior discount. A few steps took us back in time – a hundred years and more – and place – the American wild west – as we strolled through dusty streets exploring movie sets, ready and waiting for their next role as backdrops in an old west or southwestern epic.
Boomers like us will remember the golden age of westerns, the weekly television shows like Rawhide, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. We spent many weekend nights at the movie theater where we could watch handsome men with watchful eyes and murky pasts pursue outlaws who had committed dastardly deeds, protect wagon trains of settlers moving west from marauders and chase after dreams of gold. Cowboys built ranches, sheriffs delivered law and order by gun or by rope and merchants turned obscure outposts into bustling towns. These were places where justice was pursued by a fast-draw hero with a dead-on aim, the bad men were easily identifiable by their black hats and “shifty eyes” and anyone foreign was either naïve or downright suspect. Women knew their places, too: they kept their virtue unsullied and their mouths shut, looked slightly disheveled but alluring and listened to their men. A feisty woman who questioned the way things were done always had questionable morals. Stereotypes abounded and, now that we think about it, while westerns were lots of fun in their heyday, sometimes it might just be better to move on …
By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash
Note: We’ve only talked about the spaghetti westerns here but the Tabernas Desert and the surrounding area of the Almeria Province have served as the backdrops for over 400 movies of many genres including Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and are even seen in the 6th season of Game of Thrones. Here’s a link with a little more background: http://www.unique-almeria.com/movie-filming-locations.html