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Almost all travellers will pass through Ouarzazate, where the Tizi-n-Tichka route over the mountains from Marrakech meets the main east-west Er Rachidia to Agadir axis running parallel to the south side of the High Atlas. Ouarzazate is the centre of Morocco’s film industry, the desert surroundings standing in as various parts of this and other planets. Nearby, Aït Ben Haddou is the biggest film star of all, a stunning sand castle of a kasbah.
Strategically placed at the confluence of three rivers, the name ‘Ouarzazate’ is highly evocative of a dusty desert fort. In reality, this once-isolated military outpost now has an international airport and a core of luxury hotels alongside its kasbah. The historic highlight of Ouarzazate itself is the Kasbah Taourirt east of the town centre. Constructed largely in the 19th century, the building had its heyday in the 1930s and would have housed the Glaoui chief’s extended family, servants and followers, as well as a community of tradesmen, artisans and cultivators.Read more
Today, it is a solid, if sleepy little town and makes a good base for exploring valleys and oases south of the High Atlas, a transit point for mountain and desert. The region is at its best in early spring when blossom is on the almond trees and snow still covers the summits of the Atlas.
Up on a dramatic hillside, the kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou, 30 km from Ouarzazate, is one of the largest complexes of traditional packed-earth buildings in Morocco, hence its place on the UNESCO-sponsored World Heritage List. Set up above the bright green of the irrigated fields, the kasbah towers offer views across the area and the old village also includes a large agadir, or store house.
The village is a must for visitors, both because of its unique architecture and its role in the film industry, with Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile and Gladiator all having been filmed here, as well as Jesus of Nazareth, for which part of the settlement was actually rebuilt. Despite attracting a large number of tourists, the place is an awesome sight, and largely unspoilt.