Where was The Ten Commandments filmed?
About The Ten Commandments
So, anyone who’s ever been to church or has taken a religious studies class probably knows the story of Moses. This 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic serves as the ultimate testament to the story – excuse the pun.
The story of The Ten Commandments follows Moses (Charlton Heston), a child who was found and brought up as an Egyptian Prince but discovers that he’s actually Hebrew, the very people who are being persecuted across the land.
Following a crisis of identity and discovering that God (voiced by Delos Jewkes) in the form of a burning bush has bigger plans for him, Moses endeavors to help free and lead the Hebrew people of the land out across the Red Sea to safety. In order to do so, there are a series of divine interventions and some serious Old Testament style justice in order to help Moses fulfill his ultimate quest.
Along the way, we see how life works on both sides of Moses’ identity: the lavishness of the Egyptian palaces and courts versus the struggles and pain felt by the Hebrew people. It is clear to see the conflict and indifference of the ruling class.
Featuring some of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time in the form of Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter, The Ten Commandments was going to be a blockbuster hit from the get go.
The Ten Commandments is considered by many to be one of the most ambitious, and consequently, one of the best films ever made. It’s largely thought to be DeMille’s magnum opus, in a filmography and career that has some well-known and beloved titles within it.
The Ten Commandments Locations
When we say that The Ten Commandments was DeMille’s magnum opus, we’re not kidding. Unlike many Hollywood studios at the time, building elaborate sound stage sets and shooting the whole film at the studio lot, DeMille and the rest of The Ten Commandments production team headed to Egypt.
Yep, despite it being 1956, and this being one of the most cast and crew heavy films of the era, The Ten Commandments was predominantly shot on location. These weren’t unknown spots either, filming locations for The Ten Commandments included the Pyramids of Giza, the River Nile and more.
The Ten Commandments production team tried where they could to match the precise biblical locations to where they were shooting. Mount Sinai was even used, which is synonymous with The Ten Commandments in biblical study. It was a meticulous shooting schedule and the attention to detail by the location scouts is remarkable.
Moses goes into the reeds scene in The Ten Commandments
In the opening scenes of The Ten Commandments, we hear the context of the film from the narrator, letting us know that male Hebrew children under 2 have to be killed by law. Obviously, not an auspicious start to the film.
So, when we see Moses’ mum, Yochabel (Martha Scott), laying Moses in a basket and shipping him off down the river, it’s sad but understandable. It’s for the best and this way he might have a chance with an Egyptian family, rather than the certain death he faced at home. As she places him in the River Nile, she prays:
“God of Abraham, take my child into thy hands.”
If only she knew where that basket would end up and who he’d become…
This scene and quite a few others in The Ten Commandments were filmed at the actual River Nile for authenticity purposes. Obviously, it’s the longest river in the world, so while there’s no exact pinpoint for the basket drop-off, we know it’s near Luxor where the rest of The Ten Commandments filming locations are based.
As one of the largest tourist attractions both in Egypt and in surrounding nations, the River Nile is largely accessible via river cruise tours. These range from a couple of hours up to a few days depending on what you’re after and your budget.
Moses speaks to Rameses scene in The Ten Commandments
The Temple Complex of Karnak
By the time Moses returns to the Pharaoh's Palace to discuss the freedom of the Hebrew people, tensions are fraught. There have already been a few plagues that have descended upon the Egyptian people and some of Rameses’ (Yul Brynner) advisors are getting worried.
In this scene, we get to see the iconic ‘Let my people go’ speech from Moses, but before he can get that far, Rameses is immediately on the offensive, saying:
“If you bring another plague upon us it is not your God but I who will turn the Nile red with blood.” Threatening stuff, and a hefty amount of foreshadowing.
Although some of the interior scenes were shot at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, this scene was filmed at The Temple Complex of Karnak in Luxor. This expansive set of temples and ruins includes over 200 sculptures and iconic temples. Included in those Temples are ones that are dedicated to Rameses II and Rameses III, so it’s probably as close as you’re going to get to an authentic Ten Commandments filming location.
It’s a major tourist attraction and you can pay to visit all year round, excluding national holidays. As Egyptian public transport leaves something to be desired, it’s best to get a taxi, a shuttle or drive to the Temple Complex.
The burning bush scene in The Ten Commandments
St. Catherines Monastery
Sunday school kids will know this scene well. While Moses wanders the wilderness of the desert searching for answers, God has an idea and appears in the form of a burning bush, giving him his ultimate mission. It’s an unusual choice of an apparition, but that’s apparently how it happened.
Being the omnipotent being that he is, when Moses questions his inactivity, the voice of God replies: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt.”
As a consequence, he charges Moses with freeing the Hebrew people from servitude and getting them out of Egypt for good, where they can start their own society free from persecution. But it’s never going to be that straightforward!
For this iconic scene, The Ten Commandments production team found what is thought to be the original burning bush location at St. Catherines Monastery, in South Sinai, Egypt. At the foot of Mount Sinai, St. Catherines is thought to be the oldest Christian Monastery in the world. As such, it’s a major tourist location for anyone visiting this side of Egypt.
As this is in the Sinai area, it’s closer to Sharm-El Sheikh than Luxor if you’re looking to take yourself on this excursion. Again, an organized tour is the best way to visit as they try and protect the area from over tourism and from wear and tear.
The exodus scene in The Ten Commandments
During this scene, Moses sees for the first time the sheer scale of the task that he has to complete. Rounding up everyone before they head out for a new life free of persecution across the Red Sea, he says,
“There are so many, so many.”
The amount of people who were in servitude or were beaten down is huge as they all gather onto carts stolen from their former masters to head out of town in a mass exodus.
This critical scene was shot just outside the Luxor Temple, where there is a large plaza that was filled with extras. You can see the Temple’s famous pillars in the background of the shots, giving a nice juxtaposition between the humble people trying to flee and the opulence of the ruling class.
Of course, you can visit the Luxor Temple, located on the banks of the River Nile, in the heart of Luxor. As one of the major tourist attractions, it’s ticketed and tours are best to get the most out of your visit. Depending on where you’re staying, you might be able to walk, but taxis and shuttles are common between the major hotels and tourist attractions due to safety and the heat.
Parting the Red Sea scene in The Ten Commandments
Towards the end of the film, we see Moses’ big moment. At the edge of the Red Sea with the hordes of Hebrew people following him, hope and freedom are in sight. However, the Egyptians are in hot pursuit and they can’t afford to wait.
The problem? They have no way to cross the choppy waters of the Red Sea. By the time it calms, they’ll be caught and either slaughtered or forced back into servitude. Neither are options for Moses, who, channeling God’s power says:
“Behold his mighty hand!”
And just like that, the sea began to part, giving the Hebrew people a walkable, safe path to freedom outside of Egypt. Huzzah.
Much like many of the named biblical locations, The Ten Commandments production team opted to film at the Egyptian coastline of the actual Red Sea. Like the Nile, the exact location isn’t known, however, if you’re staying on the Red Sea, resort cities like Hurghada are a great option.
From here you can walk from your hotels, depending on how close they are, or get shuttles and taxis to the coastline.
Moses receives the 10 commandments scene in The Ten Commandments
After rounding up the Hebrew people and getting them out from under Ramese's grasp, Moses is unsure what to do next. God said to bring them to Mount Sinai for the next part of the plan. Once he arrives, Moses says:
“You charged me to bring the people to this holy mountain.”
Having successfully followed God’s instructions, Moses is given the titular 10 Commandments on stone tablets to serve as a way to live your life moving forward. This biblical gesture underpins the whole faith and is their code for building a new society.
In the Bible, this interaction happens at Mount Sinai, Egypt, which is considered a holy mountain for this exact reason. So, of course, DeMille got permission to film the replica scene right here at the mountain.
Known as Jamal Mousa or Mount Mousa, it’s located in the same area as St Catherines Monastery, so you can visit both Ten Commandment filming locations in one go. As with the Monastery, driving, getting a taxi or going on an organized tour are probably your best and safest bet for visiting. Don’t forget to bring a ton of water!
All in all, the filming style and production of The Ten Commandments feels more like an elaborate documentary than a fictionalized movie. With such a huge budget for the time, massive stars like Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxtor, and one of the best directors in history in Cecil B. DeMille, it was a case of go big or go home.
Also with what can be sensitive or controversial subject matter, if you can go down the authenticity route with filming locations, it adds an extra level of reference that brings the story to life. After all, why spend time, money and effort, building an elaborate set half the way across the world when all the original locations still exist and are accessible to you?