My biggest hobby (after travelling) is cinema. And when I watch a film I am entertained by the recognition of actors and exteriors. Perhaps the first case can frustrate me (remembering in what other production I have seen the same actor can become an obsession) but the second is always pleasant and rewarding.
I don’t have trouble remembering places, and when it happens I automatically visualize in my head the phrase “I’ve been there”. Well thought out, I know few people who aren’t passionate about travel and cinema at the same time. It’s probably another way to travel.
The place we’re going to talk about today, Ouarzazate, is the city in Morocco with the strongest link to the seventh art. Let’s start then!
The kasbah of Ouarzazate that supposed its origin is the kasbah Taourirt.
If you want to go to Ouarzazate and discover it, you can book the best private driver in Morocco here to visit Merzouga and Ouarzazate.
With a name of Berber origin and which translates as “without noise”, Ouarzazate was a transit area for trans-Saharan traders who wanted to go from the south to cities in the north of the country, using a kasbah as a control point. The fact that it was a safe area from the usual assaults along these routes may have given it its name.
With the time of the French colonial period the initial kasbah expanded, acquiring the dimensions of a well-structured city and becoming a customs and administrative centre.
Nowadays, despite being the capital of the province and having a considerable hotel offer (among them a golf course and a congress palace), its active population is discreet (no more than 80,000 people) since it inherits that identity of a place of passage in the past, today as the antonomasia par excellence of the desert.
The film studios of Ouarzazate are located an hour and a half from the airport of Ouarzazate.
Two others are also the industries that move the locality. On the one hand, energy, having recently built a solar thermal plant of 6,000 hectares, although its most visible engine of development is the cinema, because Ouarzazate has no more and no less than the largest film studio in the world.
What to see
Ouarzazate should not be considered as much a city enjoyable by itself as a recommended and necessary stop between the Atlas and the desert. For that reason, although I do not advise to spend the night here more than one day, I am going to enumerate its most outstanding elements so that the passage by this one is as profitable as possible.
In addition, as its structure is relatively simple, vertebrating itself around the avenue of Mohamed V that crosses it from side to side, you will not have problems in crossing it, since all those that I cite are in different heights of the same one.
The kasbah of taourirt is a place of Ouarzazate that to see indispensable
Standing out on the avenue is this kasbah, the germ of the city that dates back to the eighteenth century and which regulated trade routes and served as the residence of the representative of the Glaui, a family that managed the region through a feudal system.
Visiting the inner courtyard is free of charge, although 30 dirhams are required to access the interior and several renovated rooms. You can also hire a guide there, who should not take you more than 150 dirhams for the total group.
It is a highly recommended visit, especially considering its historical importance and that generally the kasbahs in Morocco do not stand out for their maintenance, although it is only partially restored and many of its spaces are not visitable.
Taourirt ksar is something to see in Ouarzazate that usually goes unnoticed.
It often goes unnoticed, because after the kasbah the travellers go out the way they entered. In its place it is preferable to do it by the side of the courtyard and discover this Berber district that arose under its protection and that remains hidden if seen from the avenue.
If you have agreed to the services of a local guide you can politely ask him to accompany you in this amalgam of winding streets, adobe houses and small corners.
Al Mouahidine Square
A favourite meeting place for Uzzazates, this square surrounded by cafés and shops can be the perfect excuse to stop for a cup of tea, a snack or satiate the consumer spirit with guarantees that you will not be harassed by commercials.
Ouarzazate: What to see? A very interesting place is the old market
In addition, by entering from one side of it and crossing some porticos you will find the central market (also called old market, as opposed to the new one, located just in front of it and standing out on the square). Local in nature, you can find products for everyday use such as shoes, clothes and food.
To understand the link between Ouarzazate and celluloid there are several options. The most immediate, the Museum of Cinema, located right in front of the Kasbah Taourirt. The most satisfactory but which implies (if you don’t have a vehicle at your disposal) walking for about an hour: visit the Atlas studios or the Cla studios.
If I had to decide, my recommendation and the one I will detail will be the first, because they are the oldest and scenes of films such as The Jewel of the Nile, Kundun or Gladiator will be filmed there.
You have to pay 50 dirhams per person, cost more than well invested because it allows the entrance accompanied by a person in charge and it takes more than two and a half hours in your visit. To acquire it you must go to the hotel Oscar (bordering with these), in origin exclusive lodging of the personnel of the productions that were filmed here.
The most recommended film studios in Ouarzazate are the Atlas Studios
After an introduction on the origin of these studies, several scenarios will be visited, some more recognizable and specific, being created expressly for a film and preserved as it is, and others of a more flexible design. To highlight a reduced version of a Berber city, an Egyptian temple or the Asterix and Cleopatra set.
But even if they are the great majority, it is not only Arab and Berber stages that the Atlas Studios live in, and you will even come across a Tibetan temple. The reason is an overwhelming mercantilist logic: if whoever comes to shoot is likely to look for more exotic scenarios in other corners of the planet (I think of films similar to James Bond) … why not offer them here? You have to recognize me the ability of the Moroccan to catch any business opportunity that comes into his head.
Ouarzazate airport is an hour and a half from the Atlas film studios.
And if you have never seen a studio, this visit is indispensable to understand the magic of cinema, which can be summed up in the fact that the result is much greater than the sum of its parts. This is the only way to understand that good filming, photography, lighting and assembly are necessary for spaces of papier-mâché, discrete scale and cheating architectures to give rise to unforgettable films.
If you have a car at your disposal, Ouarzazate is equally interesting for a series of elements of interest in a very close environment. You can take the opportunity to visit them on the outward or return journey, deviating minimally from your route, or spend the night and see them the next day before continuing.
The distance from Marrakech to Ouarzazate is four hours, and the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is usually a stop.
30 km away is probably the most iconic ksar in Morocco and certainly the one that has been the subject of the most filming. Not to admire its panoramic view would be to give up one of the most seductive prints in the country.
Of those I name, this is the furthest (about 50 km) although it is a usual stop if your destination is Erg Chebbi. This plain shelters about a million palm trees and is one of the most remarkable counterpoints of the arid environment surrounding Ouarzazate.
In addition, it is the site of more than one hundred kasbahs, although they are more interesting as a whole and for the way in which they transform this palm grove than individually, since they are in an advanced state of decomposition.
On the way to the palm grove it is also a good idea to stop at the Al Mansour dam, an idyllic lake where, at certain times of the year, bird watching is possible.
Near Uarzazate or Ouarzazate (Morocco) is the Oasis of Fint
This oasis framed among black rocks is an ideal place to stretch your legs observing the crops that are there, walk to the edge of the river contemplating picturesque scenes or have tea with an unbeatable backdrop. It is only 10 km to the south, and for reasons I can’t understand, it usually goes unnoticed.
And with this last scenario ends the article about Ouarzazate. Possibly tonight I will see a new film and, with a little luck, I will recognize some of the places where it has been filmed. And if that’s not the case, I’ll have to keep travelling to avoid it happening again… what a remedy!
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