Lonely Planet Writer

The ‘upside-down’ hotel said to have inspired Star Wars 'Sandcrawler' faces demolition

A hotel in Tunis, Tunisia that is said to have inspired the design of the Star Wars ‘Sandcrawler’ is under threat with fears that it could be torn down and replaced with a luxury hotel tower.

Tunis’ famous Brutalist-era Hotel du Lac faces the threat of demolition. Image by Getty

Since the early 1970s one exceptionally distinct Brutalist-era building has dominated the Tunis skyline. Hôtel du Lac, with its striking inverted pyramid shape, is said to have been the inspiration behind the Sandcrawler desert trawler in George Lucas’ Star Wars films when Tunisia was chosen as a filming location for the desert scenes in Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). Designed by the Italian architect Raffaele Contigiani, the hotel is one of North Africa’s oldest and most famous.

Tourists snap photos in front of the abandoned desert set used in the filming of Star Wars movies in Tunisia. Image by Jason George/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty

At one time Hôtel du Lac hosted A-list clientele but its fate hangs in the balance after sitting empty since 2002. The hotel was sold in 2011 with the hope that it could be redeveloped but there are fears that it could be demolished and replaced with a modern luxury hotel tower. Long-threatened by the wrecking ball, architect and preservationist Sami Aloulou this month said demolition of the ten-storey building was imminent. Speaking to the BBC he said the hotel’s exposed steel frame structure had been weakened by the elements and it would be cheaper to replace it than preserve it. ‘The building is on life-support,” he told the news channel.

Tunisia has a tradition of celebrating its past by preserving old buildings and turning them into spaces that can be enjoyed by the public. Local conservation group Edifices et Memoires continued this tradition by launching a petition to save Hôtel du Lac, calling on the mayor of Tunis to preserve the city landmark.

Tunis has striking examples of Arab, Roman and modern architecture. Image by Shutterstock

“Tunisia has a strong reputation for grassroots campaigns that can really invoke change,” says Lauren Keith, destination editor for Tunisia with Lonely Planet. “The Arab Spring is perhaps an exceptional example of that, but on a smaller scale, Tunisians have formed organisations to help preserve the heritage in the medinas (the old walled cities) in towns like Tunis and Sousse.”

The petition is hoping for backing from Unesco and George Lucas himself to secure the building’s future (even though the Star Wars link has never been confirmed) and has received plenty of support online with both locals and tourists alike calling for the safeguarding of this piece architectural heritage. City authorities have denied they’ve given permission for the hotel to be town down but Hôtel du Lac’s future is still uncertain.