the English patient, 1996


Anthony Minghella


visit the film locations

Tunisia: Getting there: flights to Habib Bourguiba International Airport, Monastir

Tourist info: Tunisian National Tourism Office

Specialist tours: Panorama Tunisia Experience specialists in Tunisian holidays (based in the UK)

Visiting Pienza: Pienza

Visiting Arezzo: Apt Arezzo

Venice: Flights: Marco Polo Airport


The ‘Cairo’ hotel is filmed in the Grand Hotel des Bains on the Lido in Venice, but when Luchino Visconti filmed Death in Venice, set largely in the hotel, he recreated interiors in the studio in Rome.

The English Patient filming location: Camel's Neck, Tunisia

The English Patient filming location: The 'Egyptian' desert camp: Onk Jemal, Nefta, Tunisia

Anthony Minghella’s visually beguiling film of Michael Ondaatje’s WWII romance is set in Italy and Egypt, though the dazzling desertscapes are in fact Tunisia.

1940s ‘Cairo’ was filmed in the city of Tunis itself, the Egyptian original being a much more developed city these days, while the the city’s Medina filmed in Sfax, on the Tunisian coast. The invasion of Tobruk shot in the port of El Mahdia, between Sfax and Sousse.

in general, access to the locations was difficult and precarious as the filmmakers discovered during locations scouts. The production was filmed in the mountain oasis of Tamerza (3 km from the visible Algerian border and guarded outpost), part of the Djebel en Negueb range, an off-shoot of the Atlas Mountains. The narrow, winding road to Tamerza climbs beside a thousand meter high gorge which veers off into several hairpin turns sometimes slickly layered with mud especially after a rainfall.

Nearly as remote was the site of the entrance to the Cave of Swimmers. Located deep inside a rocky crevice at the summit of a hill outside the desert town of Degache, and inaccessible by ground vehicles, camera and sound equipment was carried from the base camp to the location in the gorge by donkey train. Some twenty animals were used while cast and crew climbed to the site on foot, a 25 minute hike.

The desert camp of Count Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) is in the western Tunisian desert near to Nefta, not too far from the set of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, beneath the strange rock formation called Onk Jemal, known for obvious reasons as the Camel’s Neck. A guided desert safari with four-wheel drive vehicle is the only practical way to see the location.

The huge shimmering salt lake is Chott el Jerid, the dry lake you’ll need to cross to reach Nefta, and the cave where Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott-Thomas) dies, which is near the old Bedu caravan post of Tozeur. Locations can be easily reached on expeditions or tours available to those based at the beach resorts of Hammamet, Sousse or Monastir.

The English Patient filming location: Hotel des Bains, Lido, Venice

The English Patient filming location: The 'Cairo' hotel: Hotel des Bains, the Lido, Venice

The old ‘Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo’ – the wartime watering hole for explorers, diplomats and spies which was destroyed in the fifties – is not Egypt either. Nor Tunisia. Surprisingly, it’s the Grand Hotel des Bains, Lungomare Marconi 41 on the Lido in Venice, the setting for Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice.

A Tuscan monastery (Sant 'Anna in Camprena) becomes a focal point within the film where the English patient reveals a serious of flashbacks when employed as a map maker charting the Sahara Desert in the 1930s.

They then moved on to Viareggio, a coastal resort town near Pisa, to create the emergency field hospital triage tent.

The actual Italian locations include the village, which is Pienza in Tuscany, and the chapel where Hana (Juliette Binoche) studies the frescoes. This is the 13th century Bacci Chapel in the Basilica of San Francesco at Arezzo, also in Tuscany. The frescoes, painted between 1453 and 1466 by Piero Della Francesca, have recently been restored. Reservations are required to view them, and, no, you can’t light flares or dangle from the ceiling.

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