The beautiful Ait Ben Haddou. Source: Liz Sier
The traditional adobe town of Ait Ben Haddou west of Ouarzazate is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It rises red and imposing, not far from the main road. I was very excited about it, but the thought of walking around in the heat of 42 ° C certainly ruined it, so unfortunately we continued on our way. Our driver had insisted on keeping the window down and turning off the car’s air conditioning to save fuel as he was used to the heat. By the time we got to town, I was already feeling the heat.
When we arrived in Ouarzazate, we were impressed by the modernity of the streets with cobbled sidewalks, ornate light poles and wide boulevards lined with hotels and modern apartment blocks, nothing like the other regional cities we’d seen. The constant influx of international film teams and actors had obviously made an impression.
We spent little time admiring the exterior of the Taourirt Kasbah, which is still being restored but includes roadside shops and craft rooms, and went straight to a traditional restaurant across the street for lunch in the hopes of air conditioning us cools down. Unfortunately only fans were made available.
The impressive set from Atlas Corporation Studios. Source: Liz Sier
The Ouarzazate area is a well-known filming location. Morocco’s largest studios invite many international companies to work here. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, The Mummy and episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed here. Our driver took us to the Atlas Corporation Studios, where we wandered through the various film sets for a few hours, examining the props used. Established in 1983, the site extends over 29 hectares and includes all the necessary services and equipment for productions: outdoor and indoor sets, production offices, workshops, stables with trained animals and accommodation at the Oscar Hotel. Films from this studio include The Physician, The Way Back, Pope Joan, Prince of Persia, Gladiator, Babel, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven and the remake of Ben Hur.
In the evening I was really looking forward to our accommodation – a kasbah from the 18th century, about 40 kilometers outside of Ouarzazate in Skoura: Kasbah Ait Ben Moro. According to its advertisement, this fortress has been restored using traditional methods, transforming the rabbit tangle of the rooms into authentically decorated bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, and having a central dining room and terraced garden with pool overlooking palm trees and mountains. Since it had been a very hot and busy day, all I wanted was a pool and air conditioning. No luck. The ‘pool’ was decorative and the only relief from the heat that didn’t drop below 39 ° C that night was constant showers and a fan a few inches from my face while I was still damp from the showers on the sheets . We later learned that the renovation work on the kasbah was still in progress and that the pool and air conditioning were pending.
The next day was dedicated to the viewing from the car, this time with the air conditioning in full swing and the windows open! The Skoura oasis is known for its roses, acres of palm groves and numerous kasbahs in various states of repair. The oasis is fed by two seasonal rivers that emerge from the inhospitable-looking landscape that borders the Sahara. We returned through Ouarzazate and took the road south through the fertile farming valley of the Drâa, the longest river in Morocco, to Agdz. The Drâa Valley was once an important transit point on the Trans-Saharan caravan trade routes. It is home to Berber villages, magnificent kasbahs, lush green plains and endless stretches of palm trees.
On the way back to Marrakech, we ventured off the main road to visit Telouet and the Kasbah Dar Glaoui that dominate the village. This former fortified palace was the largest of a series of kasbahs owned by the El Glaoui clan, who controlled much of southern Morocco from the late 19th century until Moroccan independence in 1956. Pasha T’hami El Glaoui was a powerful and fierce ruler who was the French protectorate of Morocco but was ousted from power when Mohammed V regained control of the country.
The Dar Glaoui interior. Source: Liz Sier
Much of the kasbah is in ruins, but the current owners are gradually making efforts to restore its size, thanks to donations from tourists. The interior of this kasbah is in stark contrast to the crumbling earthen exterior with painted parlor walls, decorative doors, bright zellij (tiles), intricate iron window grilles, and finely carved ceilings decorated with saffron and henna.
We arrived in Marrakech late in the day, tired but relieved that there had been no accidents on this impressive, winding mountain road. Our trip through Morocco was almost over and we were supposed to fly home to Madrid the next afternoon. We were tired after five weeks on the road, calculated during our three weeks of driving in Spain, and were actually looking forward to the cold weather in Melbourne in July! One piece of advice for travelers thinking about a trip to Morocco – don’t do it in summer!