News Item: Anthony Minghella, the Director of The English Patient, is reported to have died on March 18, 2008. He was 54, and died of a brain hemorrhage after surgery in Charing Cross Hospital in London. His 8 films were nominated for a total of 24 Academy Awards.
The Cave of Swimmers
Does It Really Exist?
Is it near Degache, Tunisia?
Is it in Southwestern Egypt?
Is it in Libya / Sudan?

The "Cave of Swimmers," a cavern decorated with ancient paintings of people swimming, plays a prominent role in the award-winning novel and movie, The English Patient. If you saw the movie and stayed to read the credits, you know that they say there really is a Cave of Swimmers. But where is it?

map of northern Africa

This map shows the three locations considered below. Map from

Option 1: Near Degache, Tunisia ("movie" on map above)

Degache is located 33 degrees 59 minutes north, 8 degrees 13 minutes east of Greenwich.

Filming The English Patient


In general, access to the locations was difficult and precarious as the filmmakers discovered during locations scouts. The production was filmed in the mountain oasis of Tamerza (3 km from the visible Algerian border and guarded outpost), part of the Djebel en Negueb range, an off-shoot of the Atlas Mountains. The narrow, winding road to Tamerza climbs beside a thousand meter high gorge which veers off into several hairpin turns sometimes slickly layered with mud especially after a rainfall.

Nearly as remote was the site of the entrance to the Cave of Swimmers. Located deep inside a rocky crevice at the summit of a hill outside the desert town of Degache, and inaccessible by ground vehicles, camera and sound equipment was carried from the base camp to the location in the gorge by donkey train. Some twenty animals were used while cast and crew climbed to the site on foot, a 25 minute hike.

E-Mail from Bart Cosyn

Now I remember that indeed in 1995 there was a film team hanging around on the Chot el Jerid. They stayed a few days in Kebili at the Hotel l'Oasis which was near to my home in Kebili (Route vers Douz km 26). I had no idea that it was for this film. As I know it now I have to go to see that movie. Maybe I can give more details once I have seen it. Anyhow I can guess where it can be.

I presume the location [of the Cave of Swimmers] must be between Degache which is situated at the North east of Tozeur and Tamerza/SHebika which is a mountain oasis at about 30 km's from tozeur. Going to the North west this village can be reached by car or even with small buses but the trip takes more than 2 hours. I presume it is over there. In that region there is the entrance of the water coming from the hills around the Chot into the Chot el Jerid. The Chot el Jerid is a salt lake which has only at winter time some water. The Chot is very known for its desert roses and Artemia. I should check a friend who lived over there for more than 6 years near Degache. But anyhow there are plenty of caves just at the entrance of the Chot.

There is indeed surely at winter time water enough in that region because the chot has a very strange microclimate. The water evaporating in the Chot gets stucked in mountains, falls down there and returns very quick back into the Chot (BTW Chot is Arabic for lake). In addition, they have the warm water sources. This is the geothermal water I was talking about in my project. In the neighbourhood of Tozeur and Gabes there are 2 villages called El Hamma which stands for "warm and healing water" (There comes the word el Ham from which stands for the typical Arabic warm water baths).

Maybe these hints can make your search a bit easier but talking about this specific location I can not really give you any detailed information.

Bart Cosyn,

Another Map

Click here to see a map of the central part of Tunisia west of the Gulf of Gabes.

Option 2: In Southwestern Egypt ("23 deg. 30 min." on map above)

In the novel, the Cave of Swimmers is described as being at latitude 23 degrees 30 minutes, longitude 25 degrees 15 minutes [paperback edition, page 257]. This puts it at the Tropic of Cancer in Eqypt, just over the border from Libya, far from any lake or ocean. This location is 1240 miles (1980 km) SE of Degache, Tunisia.

A quick look at a map (even a globe) shows that the Gilf Kebir is a large area, and exists at the latitude and longitude specified.

Option 3: On the Libyan / Sudanese Border ("cave" on map above)

The novel notes that the Cave of Swimmers is at Uweinat, in the Gilf Kebir, north of the well named Ain Du. Uweinat is said to be 70 miles from El Taj [page 248]. The buried airplane [the movie differs quite a bit from the novel] is located at latitude 23, longitude 25. Uweinat is located on a granite plateau. The cave(?) is only "two latitudes away from the safety of Kufra [oasis]." See pages 164-5, 169, 173, 174 and 248 of the paperback.

Uweinat is a real location on the border of Libya and Sudan, approximately 100 miles (160 km) south of the Southwestern Egypt site described above.

A map describes Ain Du as a "permanent water supply" at 21 degrees 48 minutes latitude, 24 degrees 52 minutes longitude. The water quality is "Good," and the remark is "Spring, pool accessible for cars."

Oasis of Kufrah is also a real place, approximately 2 degrees north-north-west of Uweinat, in Libya. The distance from Uweinat to Kufra is 325 km.

On approximately September 22, 2008, a group of 19 European tourists to the Cave of Swimmers area were kidnapped by "gangsters." During a dawn action on Sept. 29 they were all rescued safely, in a gunbattle during which several of the kidnappers were "liquidated." (If you are reading this and were one of the hostages, I would love to talk with you. Please contact me at

Click here to go to a page with maps showing Uweinat and the Oasis of Kufrah.

Click here to see photos of Uweinat (also spelled Ouenat) taken during Bey's 1923 camel expedition. Bey is credited as being the first person to accurately map the location of Uweinat.

Click here to read text about Uweinat, including its rock carvings, from Bey's 1925 book.

Click here to see text and photos from Clayton's 1930-31 automobile expedition to Uweinat and surrounding desert.

Click here to read a historian's article about the novel The English Patient. He confirms that the real-life Almasy discovered rock art in the "mountains of Uweinat," and has much fascinating information about the lives and deaths of the characters in the novel. Thanks to Dawn Barclift for the pointer!

Click here to see a photo of Count Almasy in front of the Cave of Swimmers. (courtesy of Michael W.)

Click here to learn about the real lives of the characters portrayed in The English Patient.

Click here to learn the real story of Count Almasy (courtesy of Zsolt Torok).

Click here to read the letter from Janine (reprinted by permission).

Desert Explorer is a new biography of Sir P. A. Clayton, 1930's explorer of the Egyptian desert.

Click here to go to a company that used to sell Cave of Swimmers T-shirts. They might still have a few.

Click here to see photos of the real Cave of Swimmers and surrounding areas, descriptions, bibliography, etc., courtesy of Fliegel Jezerniczky Expeditions. If you want to visit the area, contact these folks!

Click here to see dozens of wonderful photos of Uweinat, rock art and the surrounding desert, taken in January 2001. Click on the QuickTime logos to see slide shows. Courtesy of Keith Cressman.

Click here and here to see some photos of the Sant'Anna monastery outside Pienza, Italy, where many or all the monastery scenes of the movie were filmed.

Click here to read the unofficial script of the movie.

Andras Zboray has completed the translation of Almasy's "Unknown Sahara" (from the Hungarian original, not the abridged German version) for the benefit of all English speakers. It includes a detailed description of the discovery of the 'Cave of Swimmers'. You can find this and related information at .

Do you have other information about the Cave of Swimmers (either movie or real-life)? If so, please e-mail to webmaster -AT-