After a long and arduous drive that took us from the plains of the Ksour, through the port city of Gabes and up into the Matmata hills we eventually came across the small town of Matmata nestled along the edge of the Wadi Barrak. It was getting onto 5 o'clock when we eventually pulled up in front of the hotel to find that all the tourist coaches had long since departed and the hotel had plenty of spares rooms!

Matmata is centred around the junction of the Gabès, Toujane and Tamerzet roads. On the surface there is little to mark the town - several civic building buildings, a café and a military camp - until you notice the forest of TV aerials planted into the earth. Walking around will reveal 700 dwellings where 3,500 inhabitants still live. Any of them can be visited; a Syndicat D'Initiative guide can arrange an entrance fee (hotel's are free to enter).

The hotel is one of the oldest "buildings" in the town and is said to date back to the seventeenth century when the Berbers fought against the French garrison in Medenine and Tataouine. In this century the plains between Matmata and Gabes were a major German defensive line during the Second World War. When the Allies came to push out the occupiers they were aided by Matmata Berbers who showed them the high passes, allowing them to circumnavigate the German defensive positions. As we parked outside we saw the little white plaque that marks Tunisia's favourite tourist destination...

The Hotel Sidi Driss is a large underground complex that is made up of 5 pits linked by numerous tunnels. Typically they are around 20 foot across and 30 foot deep, though the one used as the Lars' homestead is the largest with a width of 60 foot. When we arrived this pit was closed because the kitchens and bar which adjoin it were shut. Disbelievingly we had to get our first glimpse of it from the surface. This turned out to be a boon because it made me realise how different the hilly landscape of Matmata was to the flatness of the Chott el-Jerid, where the exterior filming was done.

From our vantage point next to the kitchen's chimney we were at the right spot to look down on Luke as he climbed the steps up and where Beru stood as Luke received a message for his uncle. It was strange to see this pit denuded of vaporators, bushes and power droids. OK, maybe it was just my imagination but when the wind blows just right I could hear the faint cry of "Luke, Luke!" Most likely it was my wife getting her own back.

You can see by comparing the two pictures above that alot has changed. Much of the set decorations have been removed - though not all (more on that later) - and surfaces changed. The location in 1976 had more straight lines to it and the terraced area where the bar now is didn't exist back then. But it is still possible to match up the spots where set decoration once stood. Once and a while chance throws up the odd prop or two. Several years ago when Philip Vanni restored several of the rooms to their glorious Tatooine heritage, he uncovered a couple of door frames that had laid buried under plaster and whitewash for nearly 20 years.

As I said earlier not all of the set decorations had been thrown away. There are still a number of bits of adornment that make it all look a bit Lars'-ish:

You can see in the photos on the left that the wood and fiberglass door frame is still intact. The inside of this room was never filmed - it just belonged in the courtyard shots - so no-one knows what it was used for. It might be purely conjecture but because it was next to the dining chamber and kitchen it might have been a pantry. (In the Mysteries of the Sith multiplayer map the kitchen and the dining chamber are joined by a passage that emerges through this entrance way.)

Also surviving the test of time is the ceiling fresco in the dining chamber (below). It to was covered by whitewash but was recently restored by Philip Vanni. I'm not convinced that this is an example of set decoration. Because other tunnels in the hotel have the same roof paintings I think that these are traditional local decorations.

Most of the scenes at the Lars' Homestead were set in the dining chamber, as Luke argues with uncle Owen over the fate of the droids and the coming harvest. In an example of art parodying life this room is actually a dining room! Across the pit is the kitchens and several of the chambers have tables and benches for dining guests. It was strange to sit in this room with the ceiling painted as it was in 1976 - the only thing missing was a glass of blue milk. Adjoining the dining chamber is the small tunnel used as Beru's kitchen. Nowadays it is used to keep spare benches and crates in. Though the shelves and cupboards are gone, and Luke has put his rifle away the similarities are still there.

And then there's the steps that Luke climbed. Just where exactly did they go? In A New Hope we're led to believe that they ascend to the surface. In the multiplayer "Tatooine Homestead" in Mysteries of the Sith they only go up a short distance and terminate at a chamber with a blanket and some pillows thrown on the floor. Is this Luke Skywalker's bedroom? Determined to find out where the young Jedi slept I put my feet onto concrete and climbed. Unsurprisingly it was another dining room - they must have redecorated after the "accident."

Because the hour was getting too late to drive back to Gabes and find a hotel there we were forced to find accomodation in Matmata. Oh woe, what a terrible end to a day. Oh, to have to sleep in the Hotel Sidi Driss. To share living space with the Lars. How could it come to this! We checked in and paid the very reasonable sum of £5 (US$3) for bed and breakfast for two. Our room wasn't carpeted and there was no en-suite - but what the hell! I was sleeping at the Hotel Sidi Driss and it could have been a pig trough for all I cared. After unpacking we retired to the bar to sample the delights of Tunisia's brewing industry. The national beer, Celtia, isn't too bad but I don't recommend drinking it if you haven't eaten in 3 days.

We entered the bar to find it bedecked with all kinds of Star Wars memorabilia, drawings, paintings and photographs. I recognised the photocopied widescreen cards that Dr Reynolds had donated and some faces that occasionally crop up in the Insider. There were Action Collection Jawas and Power of the Force figures everywhere. Adorning the bar front, the back wall and the arch were a fabulous array of resource stills. (NOTE: If you have given anything to the Hotel Sidi Driss please e-mail me. I'd be very interested in hearing from you and share experiences.)

The two pictures above were taken from BikeAbout for illustration purposes only.
The author of this site concedes copyright of these images to BikeAbout.

We had another early start in the morning so we said our good nights and made for bed. We wanted to get going pretty early so we'd miss out the traffic in Gabes and the heat of the day as we crossed the Chott el-Jerid. Unfortunately we didn't have an alram clock so we'd have to reply on the prayer call at sunrise. Not the most reliable way to get going in the morning, especially when you are 30 feet underground!

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