Moroccan Hollywood – Ouarzazate

Moroccan street


Ouarzazate or Ouarzazate is a city in south-central Morocco, located near the Atlas Mountains, 356 km from Agadir. Its population is 56,616 (2004).

The city’s name comes from the Berber phrase “without noise” or “without confusion.”

The main local attraction are the numerous ksars (fortified Berber villages) scattered throughout the city and its surroundings. Ouarzazate is a hub for tours of the Draa Valley and the 2 Dias desde Ouarzazate al Desierto Merzouga    

Ouarzazate is called the “Moroccan Hollywood” – for more than half a century, American film companies such as 20th Century Fox, United Artists, Universal, who are attracted by the local landscape, palm groves, sands and gorges.

The city is home to one of the largest film studios in the world, Atlas Studios. With the participation of this studio were filmed many famous films: “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gladiator”, “Alexander”, “The Man Who Wanted to Be King”.

Ouarzazate was once just a small crossing point visited by African traders on their way to Europe. During the colonial period Ouarzazate was greatly expanded.

In 1928 a town was founded on the site of the settlement by the French colonial administration. The Foreign Legion was stationed in the city.

On the outskirts of Ouarzazate is the Kasbah of Taourirt, a fortified Berber clay city belonging to the El-Hausi clan. The kasbah is now open to the public.

The Kasbah Tifoultoute, which controlled the whole valley in ancient times, stands on a hill 8km to the west of the city. The kasbah once belonged to the Pasha of Marrakech, Glaoui, but nowadays it has been converted into a hotel with a restaurant, where in the evenings there are performances with traditional dances.

To the east of Ouarzazate is the Dadès Gorges, in which there is a deep canyon. There is a strong wind blowing in the canyon. There used to be lions in the area of the gorge, but the last of them was killed in 1905. Many people make a 4 Days Desert Tour from Marrakech to spend the night in these impressive Dades Gorges.

About 180 km northeast of Ouarzazate, near the town of Tinghir, is Todra Gorge, one of Morocco’s most beautiful natural attractions. The trail winds through palm groves growing along the banks of a drying river bed before reaching the gorge, the 600-meter part of which is particularly spectacular – it is about 10 meters wide, while the sheer cliffs limiting it reach a height of 160 meters.

29 kilometers northwest of Ouarzazate, on the left bank of the river of the same name on the hillside is the Aït-Ben-Haddou, a fortified town under UNESCO protection as a World Heritage Site.

The valley of the Ouarzazate River runs through the desert; the river begins on the southern slopes of the High Atlas and is lost in the sands of the Sahara. In ancient times, the caravan route from Marrakech through Zagora to Timbuktu ran along it. Ksar was supposedly founded in the 11th century to guard the caravan route. As the trans-Saharan trade declined in importance, the population gradually moved to a new village on the opposite bank of the river.

By the 1990s, the ksar was in a ruined state, inhabited by only ten families. In recent years, the restoration is underway, it is intended to turn the ksar into a tourist center and to house art galleries.

The Ait-Ben-Haddou Qasar is one of the most typical examples of traditional Moroccan earthen architecture, common in the pre-Saharan area, south of the High Atlas. All ksar dwellings are built of red-brown clay. Houses with flat roofs are terraced on the hillside, the streets are horizontal and connected by arches and narrow passageways.

There are four entrances to the ksar, two free (the far left and the far right) and two paid. The free entrances lead through a gate in the wall, while the paid entrances pass through dwellings and are owned by two families; one of the entrances houses a museum.

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