By scrutinizing the Northern part of Wadi Rum, or by browsing closely some of the numerous navigation apps on its phone, one can observe a mysterious castle appear in the desert, under the name of « french fortress » …What does is stand for, exactly?
Under this name, one starts to imagine many things. Had Lawrence of Arabia have a French contestant in the region around 1917? (Actually, yes, he had one, the too-little-known Colonel Bremond – but we’ll come back to that in another story :-)). Or, is this place just a reconstruction, used for the filming of David Lean’s 1962 movie? Or, Is it a 12th century crusader castle? Or even, an Ottoman stronghold?
None of that…Totally different, the history of the fortress brings us back to the TV show business… back in 1998!
The Desert Forges
In November 1998, Abdallah 2, then « just » the eldest son of King Hussein (at the time, he he had not yet become Crown Prince), headed to Wadi Rum, to witness the laying of a foundation stone of what will become a actual small fortress. But why build a fortification in the desert? The great Arab revolt has been over for over 80 years, and peace with Israel has been signed since 1994!
Simply, to make it become a filming location. With the same team as for Fort Boyard (a wel-know french TV show), France 2 channel had indeed decided to design a similar emission in the desert of Jordan. The game was designed to be physical and difficult, for the benefit of a family audience. Everything was planned for broadcast during the winter of 1999-2000.
To the french standards at the time, The budget of Desert Forges was plethoric: 60 million francs, for the filming of a first block of 6 episodes. Jean-Luc Reichmann and Karine Le Marchand are in chare of presenting the show. 200 people are involved in the shooting during summer 1999.
(And please do not make fun of competitors’ outfits)
The rest of the story? The first two episodes of the game, released on french TV in late December 1999, make a total flop. Barely 10% market share, 3 times less than Fort Boyard. At almost 3 million francs per episode, it’s pretty bad news. In January 2000, France 2 just stopped broadcasting the desert forges. TV rights are sold to Canada, the United Kingdom and Sweden, and a few new episodes will be filmed again until 2001, with more success than in France. In 2001, the Forges are finished… for good. The french fortress, will now stand alone in the desert sands for decades …
however, the location has been used again around 2011 for Arabic children TV games, a kid version of the Desert Forges. Also , for some films, with for example in 2015 « the Rendez-vous », whose trailer is breathtaking …
Now the place is owned by the Jordanian Royal Film Commission. Before I tell you more about the place itself, I can not resist the pleasure of showing you a collector! the trailer of the game, UK version :
Where to find the french fortress? What to do there?
Because a map is always better than a long speech …here are the grids (just click on the interactive map).
The french fortress is located in the northern part of Wadi Rum. In other words: it is not located in the reserve whose starting point is the village of Rum. To go there, the nearest place is Disah, the other (too unknown) village in Wadi Rum. If you have your own car (4X4 required), the french fortress is about 7 kilometers from an asphalt road … If you are taken care of by a Bedouin camp driver , the excursions do not usually go there, so you’ll have to ask…
Already surprising from a distance, the french fortress is even weirder from closer: it was actually designed to look ancient, where as it is only 20 years old!
Inside, some games used during the show are still intact. You just feel as if the show is rady to start! In the light breeze of the wind (and God know Wadi Rum is always slightly windy), one would take one to imagine the bursts of laughter and the encouragements of the competitors …spooky 🙂
At this point , a clarification is necessary : the access to the fortress is prohibited… A Bedouin family lives next to it as guardians, probably in order to avoid looting of any kind. So you have 2 possibilities: to be lucky and to enter because the family his just not around (it was our case), or to kindly ask them to enter, by negotiating the entrance. In Jordan, everything can be negociated ;-).
The tips of Family in Jordan
✅ North Wadi Rum is much less crowded than the southern part … It’s a shame for those who do not have the opportunity to go, and it’s good for those who dare to go there, because they see a lot, a lot less people.
✅ Plus, not far from the French Fortress (less than 30 minutes drive … but we we will NOT provide the accurate grids unless a harsh negociation ;-)), stands for example the largest arch of Wadi Rum, both massive and splendid .
✅ Most likely thanks to its isolation that, other filming took place in the wadi North Rum: the Martian with Matt Damon, Starwars 9 (yes, yes, the one that will be released in December 2019), Lawrence of Arabia …. By the way, if you are cinema lovers, you migt enjoy reading our article on « 17 films about Jordan or filmed in Jordan ».
✅ And Disah, too little known, is also the village in which takes place each year a captivating international race of camels. A large camelodrome is located just south of the village. We issued a video report ont the event, check it out on our YouTube channel: