Stephen Spielberg was influenced as a student by David Lean, who directed most of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and a great part of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in Spain.
In fact, one of Spielberg’s unrequited wishes was to make a James Bond film, and he has said that making Indiana Jones was a kind of next best thing.
Spielberg selected his locations on a helicopter trip over the desert scenery of Almeria, after which he and the crew landed at the Parador Nacional de Mojacar for lunch.
They began shooting Last Crusade in May 1988, in Almeria, and among the scenes from there was the Palace of the Sultan of the Republic of Hatay, which was in fact Almeria’s ‘Escuela de Artes,’ which used to be the convent of Santo Domingo. Among the school’s claims to fame was having once had Frederico Garcia Lorca as a student there.
The scene where a Rolls Royce is enough to seal the Sultan’s collaboration with the Nazis was at first intended to be filmed in the famous Patio de los Leones in Granada’s Alhambra Palace, but the high cost resulted in the use of the Escuela de Artes.
Spielberg, his wife and son stayed at the Parador Nacional in Granada, while in Almeria they rented a villa at the resort of Aguadulce, just west of Almeria city.
There actually was a Republic of Hatay from 1938 to 1939, after the region was granted independence from French Syria and before it became a province of Turkey. The capital of Hatay was Alexandretta before 1939 when the city’s name was changed to Iskenderun.
In the film, the Andalusian town of Guadix, near Granada was Iskenderun, and made its railway station available so that Denholm Elliot could be mobbed by beggars before being kidnapped by Nazis.
One Almeria street that appeared in the film was Calle Almanzor, which had to shed its modern street lights for Indie, his father and Fez-wearing ally to wind their way up towards the Alcazaba palace; or at least they would have done had they gone further.
The Tabernas Desert, with the Ramblas de Trujillo, Búho, Benavides, Lanujar and Indalecio were used for Indie’s single-handed battle against German tanks (although to be fair, the Germans didn’t have whips), as were Las Salinillas and the Finca las Lomillas. It is in the Búho (owl) ravine that Indie shoves a rock into the tank’s barrel, next to a famous pile of red rocks known locally as La Tortuga (the tortoise).
The old road between Rodalquilar and Aguamarga was also used, particularly for the tunnel scene where Indie and father are followed into the tunnel by a gulping German pilot in his flaming plane (the road tunnel was in fact part of the abandoned Rodalquilar mines).
The scene where Indie’s car was attacked by a German plane was filmed in Los Escullos, Nijar, as well as at Turre and Sierra Cabrera, and at Punta del Esparto, just south of Los Escullos, their car hit a bomb crater.
Other places in Almeria that appear in the film are Ramblas Viciana and Lanos and the Baños de Alfaro. It is the Alfaro hill from which the tank goes over a cliff, apparently with Indie inside, which leads his father to briefly mourn him. In reality the drop is only five metres, but nifty camera work disguises that inconvenient and undramatic fact.
This time around it’s not snakes that rattle Indiana Jones but rats (in Venice) and seagulls. When Dr Jones Senior scares the ‘seagulls’, making them fly up to provoke the plane crash, they are in fact pigeons. If you look closely you can see that there are a number of ‘cut out’ seagulls in the sand, which do not move. It was filmed at the beach of Monsúl.
When Indiana is earlier seen heading towards Berlin on his sidecar, the crew had moved away from arid Almeria, but not too far away. In fact they went to the adjacent province of Granada, and the greener mountains of the Sierra de Huetor, on the track that goes to Prado Negro (Black Meadow!) among others.
The crossroad where they have to decide whether to go to Berlin or Venice is situated in the Sierra de la Alfaguara, at the crossroads between Las Mimbres and Prado Negro. The airfield used for the zeppelin scenes was at Turre near Mojácar, and the crash landing in the Sierra de Cabrera, nearby.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was not Spielberg’s only movie made in Spain; two years previously he had made The Empire of the Sun with a very young Christian Bale.