We left Medenine in the late morning and made our way south to the town of Tataouine. You only have to say the word once to known exatcly where George Lucas got the name of Luke's home planet from. The land between Medenine was generally unbroken, with a towering plateau on one side - we'd later visit these hils to see another location used as slave quarters - and gently undulating plains heading east to Libya on the other. (In our guidebook we read that one could see Libya from this road, but where it began and Tunisia ended I have no idea. Someone had neglected to paint a thick black line along the border.)

We came to Foum Tataouine ("Mouth of the Springs"). Originally it had been built by the French when Tunisia was one of its colonies and had initially served as a base for military patrols attempting to pacify Berbers tribesmen. We didn't spend long in Tataouine - just enough time to get our bearings and buy petrol. Then we were off to the small village of Ksar Ouled Soltane. High up in the hills south of Tataouine, nestled at the heads of valleys or on top if cliffs are any number of ancient Berber strongholds. It's small wonder than the colonial French were keen to demilitarise the Berbers - their strongholds were almost impenetrable.

Much like the Bronze Age hillforts of Celtic Britain they commanded great views and were well defended from attackers. But rather than a wooden pallisade surrounding a village the ksar of the Berber were designed not to protect their homes but their livestock and produce. Because the Berber were nomadic they didn't have settled villages to worry about. The most important things they had were their water sources, goats and grain harvests. In these troubled lands the ghorfas were built around a well and the outside walls packed extra thick with stone and clay and smoothed off to prevent climbers getting to the roofs.

We drove on into the deep south where many an Arab merchant and French soldier had been killed by Berber tribesmen in their long struggle to maintain an independence from the north of the country. All the guidebooks we'd read had said that the way and pace of life in the Ksour was different to the rest of the coutry. In this area Berber bloodlines run strongest and they maintain their traditional habits. If it wasn't for the arrival of the oil companies in the 50's the region would have been left to its own devices.

Ksar Ouled Soltane is an amazing place to visit because it is perfectly preserved (in fact the locals still use it to store their grain in) and so remote that hardly anyone visits it. We arrived just after lunch and expected to find throngs of people there. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there were less than half a dozen people, including ourselves, at the ksar. Our first experience of Berber architecture at Ksar Medenine had told us that they took a simplistic approach to decoration and adornment. Not so here - the outer courtyard looked like someone had thrown Picasso, Escher and Guadi into a pot, stirred them altogether and let the resulting gestalt loose with clay and rock.

Sometimes as many as four ghorfas are stacked up on top of each other here, offering a deep shade from the glaring sun and shelter from the dry winds that blow continually across the land. Many of the ghorfas are accessible by the steep steps that lead up from the courtyard floor. You are free to explore, in fact the two staff who run the cafe actively encourage you to have a good look around. And while my wife's back was turned I did. The ghorfas were a great deal deeper than I thought. If it wasn't for the facts that they were built on top of the humped roofs of the ghorfas below two grown men could have stretched out head to toe in the smallest chamber. They were very dark and cool too, and once my

eyes had adjusted, I found that they still had some grain husks in them. I shovelled as much as I could find into my pockets as a souvenir of this magnificent place. Down in the courtyard I could see that my wife had bought us some cold drinks and had taken up refuge at a shaded table. A good idea, I thought to myself and joined her. With my back against a cool stone wall and a cold 7-Up in my hand I closed my eyes and had a brief rest from all the driving. Around us the two other couples chatted with the cafe's owner as he showed them his guestbook and photo album. When it came to be our turn we dutifully flipped through his collection of snaps that people had mailed .back to him and read .the entries .into .the guest-

book. My eyes were peeled for any references to Star Wars or George Lucas's and Rick McCallum's signatures but I was out of luck. In my mind that made it my responsibility to add a note about Ksar Ouled Soltane's brief exposure on the silver screen when it was used as a background skyline for The Phantom Menace. (If you ever go there keep your eye out for my entry.)

If you look at the ghorfas on the back wall (pictured left) you might recognise them as having appeared briefly above Mos Espa. Admitedly you'd have to have pretty hot

eyesight, or a VCR with a pause button, because their screen exposure can only be counted in milliseconds. Because Ksar Ouled Soltane was a later addition tothe shooting schedule, when Lucasfilm re-visited Tunisia during a second stage of photography, there is little reference to what scenes they appeared in. Neither Dr Reynolds or The Insider ever mentioned it - only local information sources have ever claimed this to have been an actual Star Wars location. If it proves not to have been used then visit it anyway for it is probably one of the most relaxing and serene places you could ever hope to find.

We rested our travel weary bodies for a while longer and soaked up the atmosphere until we knew we had to make a move. We still had to visit Ksar Hadada up on the plateau above Tataouine and get to Matmata before we could call it a day. So it was back into the car and down the long, windy road that led to the plains.

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