At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

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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.

Ouarzazate, Morocco

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 the location for many famous movies of the last 50 years:

Ksar Aït Benhaddou

Ouarzazate Morocco

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 the 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 the interior of the houses, some families 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 of the town.

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The best thing to do here is walking 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 the 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)

Atlas Film Studio

Ouarzazate Morocco
Me in one of the sets.

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.

This is considered to be one of the biggest movie studios in the world, and as you can see in the image below, it does house quite big sets!

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Ouarzazate, Morocco
The set of Jerusalem

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”.

Taourirt Kasbah

Ouarzazate Morocco

The Taourirt Kasbah, which is considered to be the only historical building in the center of Ouarzazate, was the home of the infamous Glaoui family –the ‘Lords of the Atlas’– who controlled access to the southern trade routes in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Besides the historical significance, this Kasbah presents an intricate traditional architecture that highly represents the Saharan architectural style of Morocco.

At one point in the 1930s, Kasbah Taourirt was considered the largest Kasbah in Morocco and today is classified as a historical monument giving tribute to the Glaoui.

Inside the Kasbah, you’ll find a maze of irregularly sized rooms with dozens of stairwells leading to even more mysterious rooms and spaces lit up by low windows. Some of the larger rooms have plasterwork decoration featuring floral patterns that contrast the plain white walls.

Since many of the parts of the Kasbah have fallen into decline, the areas open to visits are the UNESCO restored parts, which account for the quarters of the family and extended relatives.

Films like Star Wars were filmed in this Kasbah.

Fint Oasis

Ouarzazate, Morocco
Image from:

Located 10 kilometers from Ouarzazate Oasis of Fint is a well-preserved green valley wedged between the arid mountains. On the way, you’ll see beautiful pre-Saharan landscapes leading to the oasis. In the oasis, there are many palm plantations, gardens, irrigation systems, and villages of traditional cob houses.

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This has been also the location of many movies like Prince of Persia, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, and others.

You will need a good car or a 4×4 to get here since the road is quite rocky.

Ready to travel around the world and through history, and re-live Hollywood in Ouarzazate?

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  1. Wow! That is pretty cool – you always find the cool little “gems” around the place. Some of the movies I havent heard of but others I have, ill look out for the scenes when I watch them next!