Scandal, mystery, adventure and action, history has provided us with real-life dramas that rival even the most imaginative of fiction writers. What's more, Hollywood has been quick to capitalize on this, creating a wealth of blockbusting movies about the people, events and myths of the past.
Everyone knows their celebrity casts, their most memorable lines and how they fared at the box office, but for a real behind-the-scenes look, there's no substitute for visiting the places that truly inspired them.
With the list of historical feature films seemingly epic itself, historical travel website Historvius.com has picked out just a selection of places where history has turned into Hollywood.
15 Historical Sites from the Movies
Many a royal story has unfolded in this iconic palace, so it’s unsurprising to find it featured in some of Tinseltown’s biggest offerings. This includes the dramatic scene that sees Colin Firth making his way to the recording studio as King George VI in the multi-award winning movie, 'The King’s Speech' (2010). However, it's in 'The Young Victoria' that the palace plays a starring role. In this 2009 film, Emily Blunt depicts the first monarch ever to call Buckingham Palace home. It’s worth mentioning that, in fact, neither of these films was actually shot within the palace.
The setting for Alexandre Dumas' iconic novel, 'The Count of Monte Cristo', Chateau D’If has been featured in numerous film adaptations, including the 2002 movie starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce. An infamous island prison, in use for almost 300 years, Chateau D’If was seen as one of the most brutal penal institutions in France. Now open to the public, tours of the cells and prison chambers are available, alongside displays and exhibitions dedicated to Alexandre Dumas.
Arnhem Bridge in Holland was the site of the epic encounter between elements of the British 1st Airborne Division and the Nazi forces that opposed them. Dropped far behind enemy lines, and ultimately beyond the reach of Allied reinforcements, the outnumbered and ill-equipped British troops nonetheless captured part of the bridge and held-off German counter attacks for several weary days. This costly encounter went on to inspire the 1977 film, 'A Bridge Too Far'.
Anyone who’s watched Brendan Fraser’s adventures in 'The Mummy' or either of its sequels can’t help but be drawn into the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian world. Sure, it occasionally plays fast and loose with historical accuracy, but this fun-filled blockbuster pays a light-hearted salute to some of this era’s most inspiring stories. Those who want to experience the wonders of ancient Egypt first-hand can visit the necropolis of Thebes in Luxor, Egypt, the focus of many of this trilogy’s most exciting plot twists.
The battlefields of Normandy were the setting for some of the fiercest fighting in World War II as well as many of the greatest war movies ever made. Visit this northern French region today and there’s seemingly no end to the sites that formed the backdrop of these famous flicks. 'Saving Private Ryan' fans can tour the Normandy beaches, particularly Omaha beach, where the soldiers landed. Meanwhile numerous sites can be explored from the classic wartime epic, The Longest Day, including Pegasus Bridge, Pointe Du Hoc and St Mere Eglise.
With more movies to its name than you can shake a stick — or possibly sword — at, the Colosseum has been the setting for many a Hollywood tale. Dramatically cragged yet incredibly well-preserved, the Colosseum is undeniably evocative — you can almost imagine the roar of the audience and the gladiators fighting for their lives. Perhaps the most vivid image for today’s moviegoers is that of Russell Crowe’s Maximus killing the Emperor, Commodus, from Ridley Scott’s epic, 'Gladiator'. Scott’s recreation of the site was spectacular, using CGI to bring it back to its second century grandeur.
The battle of Gettysburg is one of the most important events in American history. With over 50,000 recorded casualties, Gettysburg was the bloodiest clash of the Civil War and marked a significant turning point in the War’s progress. Small wonder then that Gettysburg has been the focal point for any number of movies and screen dramas. Featuring in films from as far back as the early twentieth century, perhaps the most famous of these was the 1993 classic 'Gettysburg', starring Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels and Martin Sheen. Today Gettysburg Battlefield is run by the National Park Service and contains a wealth of information, displays and tours of the site.
When Homer composed 'The Iliad', it’s pretty unlikely he could anticipate that Brad Pitt, Eric Bana or Orlando Bloom would one day bring his remarkable stories to life. In 2004, these Hollywood heavyweights came together for the film 'Troy', which was based on this ancient masterpiece. Today, the sparse remains of the former cities of Troy and Sparta — where the story unfolds — can be found in Turkey and Greece respectively. Incidentally, talking of Sparta and taking a cue from another famous flick, 'The 300', there is nowhere else on Earth where it is quite as satisfying to throw your head back and bellow the famous line: “This is Sparta!”
While many films use alternative locations as replacements for genuine venues, it was a slightly different story on the set of 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. Instead, this action classic used the world-renowned Nabataean site of Petra in Jordan to depict its fictional “Canyon of the Crescent Moon”, the place where Indie sets out with his father to find the Holy Grail. The star of this archaeological display is Petra’s Treasury, whose inimitable canyon-carved frontage forms a spectacular backdrop to Jones’ crusade. Interestingly, like the best of film sets, the Treasury is all façade, with very little to show inside.
Forever etched into the American psyche, Pearl Harbor witnessed a surprise attack by Japanese forces on the US Pacific Fleet on December 7th, 1941. This infamous attack has been the subject of a number of marathon movies, including the 1970 American/Japanese film 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' and of course the 2001 Hollywood offering starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, 'Pearl Harbor'. Today the naval base at Pearl Harbor is a National Historic Landmark and contains a number of sites including the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri Memorial and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Those who have seen the 2009 film 'Agora' will be familiar with this prestigious pagan temple which could be found in the heart of ancient Alexandria. Standing for over 500 years, and containing an annex of the famous Classical library, the Serapeum was eventually destroyed in 391AD after becoming the focal point of a Christian-Pagan conflict. Today little of the site survives, although visitors can wander the complex of the underground library that once housed scriptures of the ancient world.
One of the most famous battles in British military history, the clash at Rorke’s Drift in South Africa was immortalized in the 1964 film 'Zulu'. Starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, this cult classic has become one of the most celebrated war movies of all time. Today, tourists can still visit the site of this conflict between British forces and Zulu warriors, which took place in 1879, shortly after an overwhelming Zulu victory at Isandhlwana (itself the subject of the 1979 prequel, Zulu Dawn).
The 1987 film 'Hanoi Hilton' offers a moving depiction of the world of US POWs in Hoa Lo Prison during the Vietnam War, painting a picture of dire conditions, brutal torture and their ongoing resistance. Today, part of this infamous prison is open to the public, offering a small glimpse into the severe realities of the lives of these prisoners in wartime North Vietnam as well as those incarcerated under the earlier French regime.
Such was the great success of 'The Da Vinci Code' that fans of the novel and the film frequently seek its locations out. In fact, from the Louvre to Westminster Abbey, most of these sites were already famous in their own right. Yet, one which has gained quite a following in the aftermath of this monster hit is one of the largest churches in Paris, Saint-Sulpice. Visitors to this 17th century structure can immerse themselves in one of the darker moments in the plot, seeing the sundial and obelisk which lead the story’s villainous Silas towards a theatrical but ultimately false discovery. However, Saint-Sulpice is not alone in gaining a huge new foot fall from the novel; among other sites to have been hit by a wave of new tourists is the beautiful Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
With its vibrant buildings and enigmatic name, the Forbidden City in Beijing seems made for the movies. Indeed, in 'The Last Emperor', the mysterious home of China’s emperors for hundreds of years becomes the setting for the tale of its last imperial resident, Quing Emperor Puyí. This giant complex takes center stage, both in the emperor’s life and in this nine-time Academy Award winning film, as it chronicles Puyí’s short rule over the city.