Two Mediterranean nations served as the locations for Kingdom of Heaven. For 12th-century France, Scott and his production designer Arthur Max chose Spain, and standing in for the Holy Land is the kingdom of Morocco. Some of the Jerusalem interiors were also shot in Spain.
Both countries are familiar to Scott, who shot much of 1492 in Spain and used Morocco for parts of Gladiator and all of Black Hawk Down. That experience aided the choice of many locations that contribute to the film’s visual tapestry.
Scott and his filmmaking team formed a crew of 436 to begin production in Spain. Another 443 Moroccans joined the production in Morocco. At its height, the production utilized 25,000 to 30,000 extras, sometimes augmented by the Moroccan army. “They have discipline and are great riders,” comments Scott. “Without the help of the Palace of His Majesty, Mohammed VI, we could never have made this movie.”
Shooting began in northern Spain. Spain itself is an amalgam of faiths, and its greatest monuments are mosques and churches. Loarre Castle, which was used for Godfrey’s family castle, is one of Europe’s best-preserved 12th-century fortresses. Standing in the shadow of the Pyrenees, it was built on the border between Christian Spain and Muslim Spain at a time when Arab forces were retreating. Scott cloaked the impregnable castle in the winter gloom of snow flurries and scudding clouds. Balian first appears in the village at the foot of the castle, before he begins his pilgrimage of redemption.
Next the unit moved to Segovia, a jewel in the crown of Spain’s great medieval towns, to shoot an ambush sequence. Valsain Forest is normally an idyllic wood in which wild boar and antlered deer reign. Forty years earlier, the forest was the site of the World War II film The Battle of the Bulge.
Production then moved to the great walled city of Avila, where Scott used the magnificent 12th-century Romanesque cathedral for one scene of coronation panoply and another of Christian defeat.
Six hours to the south, near Cordoba, is the small town of Palma del Rio, famous as the birthplace of legendary matador El Cordobes. In the city’s center sits Pontocarrero Palace, built by Sultan Abu Yacub in the 12th century. In 1989 a new owner initiated renovations that continue today. The palace appears in Kingdom of Heaven in a variety of guises, from a courtyard in Ibelin, Balian’s inherited barony, to a hospital where a hero dies.
Next came Seville, the capital of Spain’s Muslim past. Scott’s choice of Andalusian backgrounds was his way to salute Arabic art, in the place where it reached its apogee. Two important sites were used to visually enrich Scott’s recreation of the 12th century: the Casa de Pilatos (Pilate’s House) and the Alcazar. Both are places surrounded by legend. Pilate’s House, reputedly a recreation of the infamous Roman praetor’s residence in Jerusalem, reflects the Christian adaptation of Muslim art following the reconquest of Spain. Long neglected and now fully restored to glory, the sprawling complex contains gardens and patios of surpassing beauty.