Aladdin is one of the most beloved Disney tales of all time, based on a fairy tale of a young street thief with a kind heart that only seeks to survive. Now, there’s a lot of talk about when Aladdin takes place, and neither the 1992 animated film nor the 2019 live-action film answered that precisely. But, do we at least know where Aladdin takes place?
Aladdin takes place in a fictional city called Agrabah. It is located on the banks of the River Jordan and is depicted as a merchant town where the finest goods are sold. It is also a melting pot of numerous Southern Asian and Middle Eastern cultural influences.
That’s why you might feel like it’s completely out of place. The truth is – it is. It’s supposed to be on the River Jordan, but everyone travels on camels, which are more consistent with farther Arabian regions, such as Morocco or even Egypt. On the other hand, the building style of the palace looks a lot like Taj Mahaj from Agra, India. Here’s why – and how – it all ties together.
Where Does Aladdin Take Place?
Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first – where does the story of Aladdin take place?
Aladdin takes place in Agrabah. It is a fictional town located somewhere on the banks of the River Jordan, as we learn from the Peddler in the very first few minutes of the 1992 animated movie:
“Welcome to Agrabah, city of mystery, of enchantment, and the finest merchandise this side of the River Jordan!”
We immediately learn the geographical spot where the fictional kingdom of Agrabah is supposed to be located. It’s a merchant town with a colossal palace in the middle, where the Sultan and his daughter, Princess Jasmine, rule with a fair hand and a kind heart.
The richer folk seems to be living closer to the palace, whereas the poorer citizens – like Aladdin, live further from the palace, near the city walls. One thing that tends to be confusing for viewers is the mix of numerous different cultures, making it hard to comprehend where Agrabah actually is.
We have the River Jordan reference, along with camel riding, the vast desert, and even the song, Arabian nights. On the other hand, you got the palace that resembles the Taj Mahal, decor that sought inspiration from other Southern Asian cultures – there’s a bit of everything.
As it turns out, that was the plan – Agrabah should be an inclusive place that accepts newcomers (like Jasmin’s mother, who came from another land). Especially considering that it’s a merchant town, where the finest goods from across the world are sold. That’s why the mixture of Middle Eastern and Southern Asian cultures is so obvious and vivid.
Where Is Agrabah Supposed To Be Located?
Now, we know for a fact that Agrabah is supposed to be located somewhere on the River Jordan. But is that exactly where the writers wanted it to be initially? Well, yes and no.
You see, in a 2015 interview, the 1992 Aladdin co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker shared that Aladdin was supposed to be taking place in Baghdad. However, the First Gulf War happened between the USA and Iraq, and the location had to be changed. To avoid similar potential issues, they decided to make it a fictional place. Hence, Agrabah was born.
So, the location of where Aladdin takes place was always supposed to be in the Middle East, near the River Jordan. However, Baghdad is a bit further east, and Agrabah ended up having more influence from other cultures.
Is Agrabah Inspired By A Real Place?
As I’ve mentioned, Agrabah was supposed to be Baghdad before the writers changed it to a fictional place. However, the city itself isn’t really inspired by the city of Baghdad, but rather a several places across the world, especially South Asia and the Middle East, but also some African regions.
For instance, the layout of the town and the surrounding landscape was said to be inspired by Namibia – a southwest-African land where the desert spreads all the way to the ocean.
On the other hand, the palace looks a lot like the Taj Mahal – a big palace/mausoleum located in Agra, India. Seeing that the town was initially supposed to be Baghdad, many speculated that the combination of the two places – Agra + Baghdad – is how Agrabah got its name. Although it makes sense, it was never confirmed to be true.
The truth is that Agrabah drew inspiration from many places and cultures, but it mostly resembles the Arabian cultures and Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, etc., mixed with South Asian elements and architecture.
Are The Animated And Live-Action Versions Of Agrabah The Same?
Even visually, the cities in the two versions of Aladdin are slightly different. The 2019 movie from Guy Ritchie had its fair share of cultural mistakes, but it made an effort to be less “offensive” or stereotypical than the 1992 animated version.
In the new version, it was never explicitly stated that Agrabah was located on the River Jordan. However, the movie’s production designer, Gemma Jackson, shared her vision of Agrabah with Entertainment Weekly:
“(…) everything comes and goes on ships, which gives Agrabah quite a good connection to the rest of the world. That’s why Jasmine is quite worldly and she has got a lot of information and when you see the Sultan in his place, he has quite a big collection of stuff from around the world, because they traded with other countries.”
So, Agrabah was envisioned as a port city, where on one side, you have water, and on the other, you have endless sand dunes. As Jackson explained:
“One side of Agrabah is water and behind the palace is sand dunes, it’s like Namibia where the sand dunes go right down to the sea.”
What Is Ababwa And Where Is It Located?
There’s this place that Genie and Aladdin mention when they pretend Aladdin was a rich prince, asking for Jasmine’s hand in marriage. They say he’s the prince of “Ababwa.” So, what is Ababwa, and where is it located?
Ababwa is a bunch of malarkey – it’s a made-up place, within a made-up place. It’s a place that Genie and Aladdin made up to justify a new “prince” with all the riches of the world coming out of nowhere to ask for Jasmine’s hand. They even draw it up on the map at one point, but they don’t really fool Jasmine.
To conclude, Agrabah is a fictional town located somewhere along the banks of River Jordan and is imagined as a melting pot of numerous cultures, mostly Middle Eastern and South Asian.
Ababwa, on the other hand, is a fictional place within the fictional Aladdin world – it doesn’t exist, even in the movies – it’s just a place that Aladdin and Genie made up to impress Jasmine and act as if Aladdin was a prince.