Peñíscola and “El Cid”: a great story of screen tourism

If you are lucky enough to spend the summer in Peñíscola, it is very likely that the longest-lived locals will tell you stories about the filming that has taken place in this quiet village in the province of Castellón. Endowed with unique constructions such as its lighthouse, its promenade and its castle, and with dream beaches, Peñíscola is a location coveted by many Spanish and foreign filmmakers to set their fictions.

Luis García Berlanga was the first to take notice of its goodness. The Valencian director turned Peñíscola into “Calabuch” in 1956. That first filming was an event for the seaside town, which saw its calm altered for several months. 

Or so the people of Peñíscola thought. Because in 1961 the troops of the producer Samuel Bronston arrived to film “El Cid”. And that changed the history of Peñíscola forever, making it a reference point for international tourism.

Climbing up to the lighthouse, a very important stage in “Calabuch” / Peñíscola Film Office

At the time, “El Cid” was a cinematic event of as epic proportions as the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. The story of this blockbuster is a curious one. The idea of making a film about one of the greatest warriors in the history of Spain came from the director Rafael Gil, who had a draft script and the rights to the story. For advice, he had signed up Menéndez Pidal’s son and was considering the option of Francisco Rabal as the protagonist. But then came the force of nature that was Bronston. He bought the rights and decided that the cast had to be American. Charlton Heston was immediately cast as the lead and Anthony Mann as director. At the time, Mann was married to Sara Montiel, and proposed her as Doña Jimena. But Saritísima turned him down and recommended Sophia Loren.

The Plaza de Santa María has been used by almost all productions / Peñíscola Film Office

This is how a project that was initially modest in its pretensions and whose projection abroad would have been limited, became a very ambitious project, with the character of a super-production and with international projection. Since the story of the Cid is that of part of the reconquest (of Spain occupied by the Muslims), the film was shot around the country, following the real footsteps of the character. Peñíscola is represented as if it were Valencia, the scene of Rodrigo Díaz’s last epic battle. It was there that he “won battles after he was dead”, alluding to the episode of the conquest of the city in which his soldiers tied him, already dead, to Babieca’s saddle and spread panic among the Muslims, who believed him to be dead. 

For the scenes of the shooting in Valencia, thousands of residents of Maestrat were hired, who benefited for several months from a large injection of money working as extras during the filming. They were paid 20 duros a day and an omelette sandwich, and hundreds of extras wanted a role of any kind every day. Such was the size of the scenes that even conscripts doing military service were used.

The panoramic view of Peñíscola from the North beach is the most iconic / Peñíscola Film Office

The North Beach, the Felipe II ramp and the Portal Fosc were the filming locations in Peñíscola. The rest, as they say, is history. If in Spain the film was a smash hit, the United States was a before and after for tourism in our country. “El Cid” was so popular there that from then on the character began to be studied in schools in America and the rest of the world. One of his biggest fans was President Kennedy, who even invited Charlton Heston to the White House to talk to him about El Cid Campeador.

“El Cid” is also one of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films, who considers it “one of the greatest epic films ever created”. Scorsese was one of the main forces behind the restoration and re-release of the film in 1993. That’s nothing.

And then came “Game of Thrones

If “El Cid” was the international launch of Peñíscola on the tourist scene, it was also an example for many audiovisual productions that have since chosen it as a filming location. Something that the Peñíscola Film Office knows very well, having seen the protagonists of “El chiringuito de Pepe”,El Ministerio del Tiempo”, “El barco” and, of course, “Game of Thrones” pass through its streets. 

The urban layout of Peñíscola, with a beautiful medieval town surrounded by walls, a castle and several beaches, made it ideal for the location of the city of Meereen in the sixth season of the series. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Tyrion and Varys, you can start in the Plaza Mayor, go through the Portal Fosc and reach the walled Renaissance square of Santa Maria. There you can have a drink on one of its quiet terraces and recharge your batteries to continue discovering Peñíscola-Meereen.

The Paseo de Ronda is part of the “Peñíscola de cine” route / Peñíscola Film Office

Walking up the Paseo de Ronda, Tyrion and Varys take in the views of Peñíscola’s southern beach, a favourite spot for locals and outsiders alike. The beautiful Artillery Park served as the setting for the scene of Tyrion’s encounter with the slavers. You can simply enjoy the incomparable views before continuing the climb up to Pope Luna’s Castle (for this is where Benedict XIII lived and died). If you’re there in July, don’t miss one of the performances of the Classical Theatre Festival. Good culture in a film setting.

The views from the Artillery Park are incomparable / Peñíscola Film Office

You can end your walk around the city at the lighthouse, the scene of many scenes from “Calabuch” and another incomparably beautiful viewpoint overlooking the Mediterranean. 

To discover all the film locations in Peñíscola, you can follow this guide. With it you’ll be sure not to miss a single corner of screen tourism. And with this other guide, you’ll know where to get your strength back with the best Mediterranean cuisine.

Do you need more reasons to visit Peñíscola?

By María Parcero

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