From England, the company moved to Ouarzazate, Morocco, which became the site of the marketplace where Maximus is sold, Proximo's gladiator school, and the small
arena in which Maximus and Juba get their first taste of gladiatorial combat. Following in the tradition of the famous road builders of ancient Rome, the "Gladiator" crew cut, improved or widened miles of road through the desert to allow the fleet of four-wheel drive vehicles, trucks and
busses to traverse the rocky terrain. Branko Lustig also
enlisted the Moroccan army to build a bridge across a river leading to the remote location, which the crew dubbed "Branko's Bridge."
Morocco is home to the oldest existing casbah in that part of the world, which is known to have stood for about 500 years, but whose foundations probably date back to the time of the Roman Empire. Production designer Arthur Max offers, "In some ways, Morocco designed itself. It was magic. You come up over a hill, and you're in another time. It was heavenly to find this ancient
casbah, and, conveniently enough, there was an empty field at the foot of the town where the locals played football. It was the ideal
spot for us to erect a small, provincial arena where our hero
is introduced to the life and death existence of a gladiator."
It was important that the newly built amphitheatre
be indistinguishable from the ancient architecture surrounding it. Using only indigenous materials and rudimentary methods that had not changed in generations, the construction team produced more than 30,000 mud bricks with which to build the structure. "The bricks were made of simple mud, mixed with straw, cast in a mold and baked in the sun," Max says. "When the arena took shape on the existing landscape, it looked like it had been there for centuries."
The production also employed local citizens as extras in the arena and in the bazaar, where both slaves and animals were purchased. As befit the setting, the weathered faces of the Moroccans gave no hint that they would return to the 20th century when Ridley Scott called "cut."
Leaving Morocco, the company journeyed to the "fortress island" of Malta, where the most daunting task still lay ahead. Malta, which holds pre-Phoenician ruins dating back some 6,000 years, had become part of the Roman Empire in 218 B.C. More than 2,000 years later, Malta would see the recreation of the Roman Empire as the location set for Rome and its magnificent Colosseum in "Gladiator." Scott notes, "Every film has its own inherent challenges, but
how often do you get to rebuild the Roman Empire?"
Arthur Max reveals that he had a head start on the research for this crucial aspect of the production. "I had the advantage of having lived and worked in Rome and done some of my architectural training there. I knew the actual locations firsthand and had a sense of place. For me, the greatest challenge was how to achieve the scale and convey the vastness of the empire."
Max accompanied Ridley Scott to scout historic Fort Ricasoli, a 17th-century Spanish fort, which had later been converted to a barracks by Napoleon's invading forces. Scott remembers, "There was also a giant parade ground that would fit our Colosseum perfectly Arthur and I figured that the existing buildings had already provided some of the pieces, so if we integrated our sets with the real thing, we'd complete a fantastic jigsaw puzzle."
Over a period of 19 weeks, more than 100 British technicians and 200 Maltese tradesfolk labored to recreate the heart of the Roman Empire. Their efforts were constantly hampered by high winds and storms in what was reported to be Malta's worst winter in 30 years.
The centerpiece of the construction was the Colosseum, which was a<
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