Ouarzazate –nicknamed The door of the desert– might be a small town today, but back in time, it used to be a crossing point for African traders on their way to northern Morocco and Europe. Not long ago, Ouarzazate was used just as a base for desert safaris, but now a day, the town itself and its surroundings have become a destination by themselves.
While Ouarzazate is strategically located within reach of some of the finest ksour (fortified towns) and oases of the south, the town has created a recent fame for being the perfect filming location in the Moroccan and international film industry.
While in Ouarzazate, make sure not to miss these sights that have served as location for many famous movies of the last 50 years.
Ouarzazate became famous when this ksar (fortified village) appeared in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Aït Benhaddou is located about 20 km away from the center of Ouarzazate, but it is easily reachable by taxi. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is considered to be one of the most beautiful ksour in Morocco and because it is a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco.
While mostly uninhabited (about 8 families currently living there), it is possible to visit some of the Kasbahs (dwellings) where you can see how the families live there. If you’re interested in seeing seeing the interior of the houses, some family could offer you to see them for a small price (10-20 Dirhams). You can see the Mausoleum of Ben-Haddou, which is at the base of the hill on the opposite side to the town.
The best thing to do here is walk around the town to admire the traditional mud-brick architecture and the patterns created with the brick layouts and the buildings. There are two main entrances into the Ksar. One can be reached by the new bridge and the other is reachable by crossing the river using the stepping stones (in dry season the river is completely dry).
Also worth doing is the hike to the granary at the top of the ksar, where you can get a spectacular view of the Souss-Massa-Drâa area as well as the Ounila River.
Besides the film studio in Ouarzazate, this is probably the most “Hollywood famous” sight in the area. Several other films have been shot here, including:
- Sodom And Gomorrah (1963)
- The Man Who Would Be King (film) (1975)
- The Message (film) (1976)
- Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
- Time Bandits (1981)
- Marco Polo (1982)
- The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
- The Sheltering Sky (1990)
- Kundun (1997)
- The Mummy (1999)
- Gladiator (2000)
- Alexander (2004)
- Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
- Prince of Persia (2010)
If the rocky terrain around Ouarzazate seems familiar, that’s because the area has been used as the backdrop for many Hollywood film productions. Ouarzazate has doubled up as Tibet, Egypt, and every country of the Middle East in films like Jewel of the Nile, The Sheltering Sky, Kundun, Gladiator, The Kingdom of Heaven, and Prince of Persia, among many others.
While you can see many of the sets from outside the studio, it is worth entering and walking inside them to feel the spaces you’ve seen in movies. You can walk through Jerusalem, visit Moses’ House, the court of the Passion of Christ, Ben Hur house, Caesar’s Palace, and other sights from “around the world and history”.