Fragments of make-believe worlds – the film sets of Almería

Mark Parascandola photographs fragments of film sets left behind in Almería, Andalucia, a once popular hub for Hollywood film production

The Yellow Rose, Mini Hollywood. Following the success of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Sergio Leone commissioned Carlo Simi to construct an entire western town for the second title in the trilogy, For a Few Dollars More. Two rival bounty hunters, (Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef), both in pursuit of the fugitive El Indio, eye each other suspiciously from their hotel windows on opposite sides of the street. The building now labelled the “Yellow Rose” housed Van Cleef’s hotel and the town saloon. The town now operates as a western theme park, with daily stunt shows, can-can dancing, and a zoo.

The Spanish province of Almería in Andalucia has a very interesting history. Around half a century ago, it was a hub for Hollywood film production. The American film industry discovered that Almería’s desert landscape – with barren rock faces and sparse vegetation – provided a blank canvas on which sets could easily be built.

The land masqueraded as the American Midwest, North Africa or even the surface of the moon, with just a little accessorising.

Hills, Western Leone. All images pictured here are from the book Once Upon A Time in Almeria The Legacy of Hollywood in Spain by Mark Parascadola, published by Daylight Books.

Some of the old sets still remain, however, as fragments of make-believe worlds, while others have been converted into tourist attractions. Photographer Mark Parascandola has documented these remnants in a series titled Once Upon a Time Almería: The Legacy of Hollywood, brought together in a photo book published by Daylight Books.

In the 1960s a few hundred Hollywood films were shot in the region. Besides the area being aesthetically suitable for the sort of films being made at the time, cheap labour made the area even more attractive to American production houses.

Ruins of the El Condor Fort, Tabernas

Scenes for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Cleopatra (1963) and parts of classic Westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), were shot in Almería.

In the 1970s, however, laws introduced under Franco’s dictatorship favoured national cinema and local industry over the foreign. Slowly, Hollywood retreated.

Cemetery, Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood

Much of Parascandola’s work studies architecture and lived-in spaces and its relationship with geography and communities.

But this particular series is also the photographer’s exploration of his own past and his family’s history. His mother moved to America from Almería in the 1930s and family holidays during his childhood often included visits to these film sets.

Playa del Algarrobico, Carboneras. Scenes for Lawrence of Arabia were shot on the beach here. In 2003, a developer began constructing a mega-resort complex on the site, including a massive 20-story hotel on the hillside. However, opponents of the development claimed that it was in violation of coastal zoning regulations. After a decade of litigation, the Supreme Court of Spain declaring the land to be protected from development, though the unfinished hotel structure still remains to this day.
Justice of the Peace, Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood

Parascandola’s photographs capture these sets in different moods, sometimes like eerie fragments of a world that was and other times like caricatured tourist attractions; complete with actors in over-the-top outfits and film props.

Once Upon A Time in Almeria: The Legacy of Hollywood in Spain by Mark Parascadola, published by Daylight Books, out December 12. Available for pre-order here.

Espectaculo Western Show, Mini Hollywood