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Lost in the sands of time: Famous Star Wars set at risk of being swallowed up by dunes in Tunisian desert


Kevan Karanjia
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 27, 2013, 11:44 - Whether you enjoyed Star Wars Episode I or not, you'll probably recognize the iconic set of Mos Espa - the fictional city where Anakin Skywalker grew up - but the tourist hot spot might soon disappear as giant sand dunes in Tunisia's Nafta desert threaten to engulf the famous landmark.

Large sand dunes are rapidly advancing on the Mos Espa Star Wars set (Photo courtesy Google Maps)

Large sand dunes are rapidly advancing on the Mos Espa Star Wars set (Photo courtesy Google Maps)

Star Wars fans if you haven't seen it yet you better go now because the famous film set from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, may not be around for much longer. 

The location used for the city of Mos Espa has stood out amongst the sand of Tunisia's Nafta desert since its construction in 1997, but advancing dunes are threatening the landmark.

Arc shaped sand dunes - known as barchan - are advancing rapidly and could soon engulf the entire set.

Barchan dunes are characterized by two downward facing horns that are found on the steepest side of the drift. 

Depending on wind speeds, they can advance over 20 metres a year. 

The famous film set can be found near Chott El Gharsa, just north-west of Tozeur, Tunisia. 

The dome buildings of Mos Espa were designed to protect from desert extremes (Photo courtesy Jerzy Strzelecki)

The dome buildings of Mos Espa were designed to protect from desert extremes (Photo courtesy Jerzy Strzelecki)

The Tunisian desert was perfect for the desert planet of Tatooine (Photo courtesy Jerzy Strzelecki)

The Tunisian desert was perfect for the desert planet of Tatooine (Photo courtesy Jerzy Strzelecki)

Already the set from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope has been partially overtaken by advancing sand drifts. 

With thousands of fans heading to the desert annually to catch a glimpse of Star Wars history, the loss of another film set would be devastating to Tunisia's emerging tourism industry.   

The city's stone buildings, dome roofs, and pod-racer track perfectly depicted the desert planet of Tatooine and are unique attractions most come to see. 

According to Dr. Ralph Lorenz from John Hopkins University, the Tunisian government should protect the attraction. 

In a report, he wrote "the site may be of pedagogical interest in teaching remote sensing and geomorphic change. The site’s popularity as a destination for Star Wars enthusiasts results in many photographs being posted on the internet, providing a rich set of in-situ imagery for continued monitoring in the absence of dedicated field visits."

Solutions to the problem include erecting a wall or fence around the city, bulldozing each approaching dune, or moving the site to another location. 

The Tunisian government is making plans to protect the city. 

The pod racer track used in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Photo courtesy Jerzy Strzelecki)

The pod racer track used in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Photo courtesy Jerzy Strzelecki)

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