The Great Camel Caper
"The pilgrimage caravan is one extraordinary example of Islamic cultural heritage that has been lost to the world forever, and which we wanted to bring back to life on an unprecedented scale on the giant screen. We hope that this sequence in the film, when Ibn Battuta joins the Damascus pilgrimage caravan to Mecca, will resonate deeply with the Muslim audience as many of their forefathers will have taken a similar journey.
We also hope it will provide a window into the wonders of Islamic culture and its contribution to human civilization for a non Muslim audience.” Historically, caravans could be up to 30,000 to 40,000 camels strong, with two weeks passing between the first and last leaving the gates of Damascus.
The size of a small moving city, they were run like one, from the leading Emir or Caravan Captain, pilgrims, torch bearers, physicians, lawyers, soldiers, medical assistants, traders, servants, musicians, merchants, citizens of all classes in addition to camel, goat and donkey handlers. In those days, pilgrims would travel by foot, camel or horse for up to three years to reach Mecca with no guarantees of reaching their destination or of returning home. Ibn Battuta took 18 months to get to Mecca from Tangier. Everyone traveled at great personal risk dealing with heat, exhaustion and bandits. But the faith pulled them to Mecca."When you're sitting on a camel in 52 degrees centigrade and Mecca is a thousand miles away, the admiration you feel for people willing to make that journey is overwhelming. And now we're living the jet age Hajj in which people fly," says Cunningham-Reid. Preparing the Journey to Mecca pilgrimage camel caravan began six weeks prior to principal photography in Morocco in the Spring 2008, with local artisans stitching camel and donkey packs, palanquins (covered litter) in addition to making all the period props such as bows and arrows, flags, goat skin water packs, saddle covers, spears, shields, tents, reed urns and grain baskets, to name but a few artifacts.Over a thousand animals and five hundred extras were choreographed into a caravan meandering through the desert over a mile long.