What do you know about Ouarzazate, the movie capital of Morocco?

What do you know about Ouarzazate, the movie capital of Morocco?

Clay towers decorated with African ornaments and an ancient citadel on a hill: you’ve all seen it in Game of Thrones, when Daenerys Stormborn celebrates the liberation of Junkai’s slaves. Ait-ben Haddou is a small Moroccan town that has made headlines in many movies where directors have turned to Eastern motifs. And nearby Ouarzazate is home to Africa’s largest film studio, Atlas.

Aid Umeira

In southeastern Morocco, just two hours drive from the city of Marrakech in the Draa-Tafilalet region is the “gate of the desert” – a beautiful and quiet town Ouarzazate, construction of which began in 1920. Its natural beauty has made it the capital of Moroccan and African cinema: some even call it the “African Hollywood,” although its appeal is not limited to the field of cinema.


The city’s name is made up of two Berber words, “war” and “zazat,” which means “city without noise.” Its inhabitants enjoy the local tranquility, sunshine and nature, which also attract many celebrities and stars of the world cinema.

According to historical sources, the area where Ouarzazate is located was a crossroads of African traders who connected ancient Sudan and Marrakech through the Draa and Tizi valleys and a place of convergence of different ethnic groups, as evidenced by the rock carvings, a legacy of ancient civilizations.

The Amazigh were the first to inhabit the area, which was home to two villages, Tsoamat and Taurirt, but the region acquired its present appearance with the beginning of French colonization: construction took place around the military barracks erected there.

At that time, the town grew to a great extent and served as a garrison and a center of administrative and customs control. In addition, the city was home to the kasbah of Taurirt. This is the citadel of the ruler Tami El Glaoui, on the square in front of which stands a cannon, thanks to which the power outside the current kasbah was secured.

The kasbah is a unique architectural object

Ouarzazate has a unique architectural style which is reflected in the appearance of its citadels and palaces built both on the uplands adjacent to the waterways, such as the hills, and in the areas close to the desert where a single fortification is sufficient.

These palaces and citadels are renowned for their beauty and have features that reflect the natural landscape of the places where they were built, making them one of the most important cultural monuments in the south of the Kingdom of Morocco. They are high-rise buildings, have a single entrance and are protected by walls interspersed with high towers, behind which are all the necessary conditions for life: mosques, baths, central squares.

The most famous among the Berber citadels is the kasbah of Ait-Ben-Haddou. It is a complex of residential buildings with all kinds of institutions and buildings such as mosques, stables, a hall for assemblies and schools built of clay. All these buildings are surrounded by a protective wall, making the structure resemble castles in small towns with tall towers and decorated upper sections. There are also public areas, an exceptional complex of buildings that conveys a complete picture of building techniques on African soil, behind which stretches the vast desert.

In addition to the Kasbah of Ait Ben-Haddou, there is the Kasbah of Taurirt, one of the city’s most beautiful architectural structures. It was built by the El Glaoui tribe in 1882. This Berber structure is decorated with delightful ornaments and looks like a sand castle in the middle of the desert.

Stunning nature

In addition to the citadels mentioned above, this city, located in the south of Morocco in front of the desert at the foot of the impregnable Atlas Mountains, is surrounded by fascinating scenery: vast deserts, sand dunes stretching into the distance, oases, green palm plains, charming lakes and valleys with beautiful caves. All of this draws travelers from throughout the world.

Thanks to its picturesque location, the city has gained another advantage: exceptional colors and great brightness, which are ensured by the brightness of the sun throughout the year. This is what distinguishes Ouarzazate from the other cities in the kingdom, whether in the north or in the south.

The capital of African cinema.

These citadels and landscapes have turned the city into one of the largest natural studios in the world, which attracts the attention of leading filmmakers and brightest movie stars. In this city you can recreate a variety of historical eras and events, which allows you to shoot movies of different subjects.

“The Moroccan Goat Shepherd,” which was made a century ago, is the first film to be filmed in this city. It was followed by such international films as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Under Cover of Heaven”, Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”, Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” and others. Thus, Ouarzazate became the center of attraction for the world’s leading stars, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, etc.

Thus, the city hosted the shooting of the film “Alexander”, directed by Oliver Stone. It tells about the life and conquests of the Roman commander Alexander the Great. Other films shot in Ouarzazate include “Gladiator” directed by Ridley Scott, which won an Academy Award in 2001; David Lean’s most famous film, “Lawrence of Arabia; “Eighties classic “The Pearl of the Nile,” starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner; “Kundun,” directed by Martin Scorsese; “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Asterix and Obelix,” and “Cleopatra.” Then again, many scenes from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk were filmed in Ouarzazate and not far from Rabat.

The appearance of the first film studio in this city dates back to 1983, when Atlas Studios was established there. It is a huge open space with enchanting views of the mountains. There are sewing, carpentry and other workshops, dressing rooms, stables for hundreds of horses and camels, offices where the film production is managed, three photo studios, and a four-star hotel complex with all the necessary amenities.

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