“THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT OUARZAZATE”. It overlooked in the north by some of the highest peaks of the high Atlas and sitting astride the meeting place of two great valleys, those of the Draa and Dades rivers. Ouarzazate is a delightful provincial city, packed with red-pink buildings. The predominantly Berber population is joined by visitors drawn to the region’s dramatic mountain and desert landscapes, and to its famous film studios. Ouarzazate lies at the crossroads of Morocco’s traditional north-south trading links; which at one time saw camel caravans passing by from pre-saharean Africa to the major trading centers of Marrakech and Fes.


The city “Ouarzazate” sits surrounded by simply landscapes, making the point where the Mountains meet the desert, giving rise to series of oases that have provided theregion with precious water. Until the 20th century, Ouarzazate was a small and largely undeveloped place that saw one kasbah after another built by local Berber Communities in the countryside surrounding it.

These little fortified villages of stone houses were home to the famous Glaoua tribe, a Berber people from the mountains, who were attracted to the Ouarzazate region by its natural resources. Built of dried red mud and surrounded by palm trees and fields of crops irrigated by the rivers. The kasbahs blended in complete harmony with the landscape. Today they form part of the modern city laid out by the French during the protectorate period. 

This led to Ouarzazate being dubbed the “city of a thousand kasbahs” The most notable include the 18th – century Taourirt Kasbah in the city center, while just outside the city, near the road out to the west, is the towering 17th – century Tifoultoute Kasbah, which commands impressive views of the Atlas Mountains. 

When Morocco came under the control of the French in the early 20th century, Ouarzazate’s fortunes changed dramatically.  Attracted by its strategic location at the head of the Draa Valley, the.  French Foreign Legion established a garrison town here.  During the 1920 s and 1930 s, it was developed further, its infrastructure was improved, and Ouarzazate became an important administrative and customs center for the surrounding area. Today, Ouarzazate is a beautiful, quiet place as befits its name, which means ”  without noise “in the local Berber language.  It is not a big tourist center, but it is becoming more popular and there as a small selection of luxury hotels and resorts, as well as budget options.

Ait Ben Haddou

A fortified city, or ksar, Ait Ben Haddou lies around 31 km northwest of Ouarzazate on the banks of the Oued Mellah, overlooking the Ounila Valley.  Founded in the 11th century, though many of its buildings are younger. It was once an important place for merchants to rest and trade on the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech: Ait Ben Haddou is recognized as one of the most complete examples of ancient  pre – Saharan architecture in the world, leading UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage site in 1987. The ksar is a stunning sight, with its great defensive walls, angled towers, and red – earth houses set against the steep mountainside. 

It is laid out in the traditional fashion: courtyards, homes, mosques, and medersa (university) buildings are set around a central marketplace.  There are sweeping panoramas from the fortress’s upper levels.  Immortalized in films such as the 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia and 1977’s Jesus of Nazareth, Ait Ben Haddou is now a tourist attraction and film location rather than a place for people to live.  A new village has been built for its former occupants on the opposite side of the river, and film revenues have helped pay for the fortress’s upkeep. 


-Do have mint tea with a rug seller.

– Take a bus ride to a small town with some locals.

-bUY sample olives in the market.

-Don’t use your left hand.

Movie-making in Ouarzazate

Even if you’ve never been to Ouarzazate, you’ve probably seen it in a film.  The city’s landscape and kasbahs have provided the locations for dozens of movies over the decades, including numerous Hollywood productions.  Early movies filmed in the area include the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, considered one of the greatest films ever made.  Starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, the movie won seven Oscars at the 35th Academy Awards in 1963, including best picture, best director, and best sound.  Other famous movies made here include The Man Who Would be King (1975), starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine;  The Message (1976), which recounts the life of the Prophet Muham mad (though, in accordance with Muslim beliefs, the Prophet is never shown);  and the 1977 classic Jesus Nazareth, which stars Robert Powell.

In the 1980s, Ouarzazate made appearances in the fantasy film Time Ban dits, directed by Terry Gilliam;  The Jewel of the Nile, starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito;  the 15th James Bond movie, The Living Day lights, starring Timothy Dalton as 007;  and Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, starring Willem Dafoe as Jesus.  The filming of American writer Paul Bowles’ most famous novel, The Sheltering Sky, in 1990 was slightly unusual in that, unlike most movies shot here, the story was actually set in Morocco.  There seem to be very few places that Ouarzazate has not stood in for at one time or another.  In recent years, it’s been Tibet in Kundun (1997);  ancient Egypt in The Mummy (1999);  and a province of the Roman Empire in director Ridley Scott’s 2000 classic, Gladiator, which starred Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix 


-If you can , visit the Handicapped Project Horizon in Ouarzazate, which helps rehabilitate patients. Many have been taught to make traditional handicrafts.


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