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Burning heat and Hollywood heroes: leaving Morocco in style

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Ait Ben Haddou
The beautiful Ait Ben Haddou. Source: Liz Sier

The traditional mud brick town of Ait Ben Haddou to the west of Ouarzazate is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It rises, red and imposing, not far from the main road. I was really looking forward to seeing it, but the thought of walking around in the 42 ° C heat certainly gained the advantage, so unfortunately we continued on our way. Our driver insisted on keeping his window down and turning off the air conditioning in the cars to save fuel, as he was used to the heat. So by the time we got to town I was already feeling the heat.

When we arrived in Ouarzazate, we were struck by the modernity of the streets, with cobbled sidewalks, ornate lampposts and wide boulevards, lined with modern hotels and buildings, nothing to do with the other regional towns we had. views. The constant influx of film crews and international actors had obviously made their impression.

We spent little time admiring the exterior of the Taourirt Kasbah which is still under restoration but which has incorporated shops and craft spaces along the route, and we headed straight for a traditional restaurant, across the road, for lunch, hoping the air conditioning cools us down. down. Unfortunately, only the fans were provided.

Ensemble Atlas Corporation Studios
The impressive Atlas Corporation Studios set. Source: Liz Sier

The Ouarzazate region is a famous filming location, with the largest Moroccan studios inviting many international companies to work there. Movies such as Laurence of Arabia, Cleopatra, The Mummyand episodes of Game of thrones, were shot here. Our driver took us to Atlas Corporation Studios, where we spent a few hours walking around the various movie sets and reviewing the props used. Created in 1983, the site covers 29 hectares and includes all the services and equipment necessary for production: exterior and interior decorations, production offices, workshops, stables with trained animals and accommodation at the Oscar hotel. Movies from this studio include The physicist, The way back, Pope Joan, Prince of Persia, Gladiator, Babel, Alexander, Kingdom of paradise and the remake of Ben hur.

In the evening, I couldn’t wait to find our accommodation in an 18th century Kasbah about 40 kilometers from Ouarzazate to Skoura: the Kasbah Ait Ben Moro. According to its advertisement, this fortress had been restored using traditional methods, transforming the maze of rabbits into authentically decorated rooms with adjoining bathrooms, and benefiting from a central dining courtyard and a terraced garden with swimming pool , overlooking a view of palm trees and mountains. As it had been a very hot and tiring day, all I wanted was a pool and some air conditioning. No chance. The pool was ornamental and the only relief from the heat, which didn’t drop below 39C that night, was constant showers and a fan a few inches from my face as I stretched out, still wet from the showers, on the sheets. We later learned that the Kasbah renovations were still in progress, with pool and air conditioning coming.

The next day was spent visiting the car, this time with the air conditioning on full blast and the windows open! The oasis of Skoura is well known for its roses, its acres of palm groves and its many kasbahs in various states of repair. The oasis is fed by two seasonal rivers that emerge from the inhospitable landscape that borders the Sahara. We returned via Ouarzazate, taking the road south through the fertile agricultural valley of the Dra river, the longest river in Morocco, to Agdz. The Dra Valley was once an important transit point on Trans-Saharan caravan trade routes. It is home to Berber villages, sumptuous kasbahs, green plains and endless expanses of palm trees.

Back in Marrakech, we ventured off the main road to make a short visit to Telouet and the Kasbah Dar Glaoui which dominates the village. This ancient fortified palace was the largest in a series of kasbahs belonging to the El Glaoui clan, which controlled much of southern Morocco from the late 1800s until independence from Morocco in 1956. Pacha Thami El Glaoui was a powerful and savage ruler who favored the French protectorate of Morocco, but was ousted from power when Mohammed V took over the leadership of the country.

Interior of Dar Glaoui
The interior of Dar Glaoui. Source: Liz Sier

Much of the Kasbah is in ruins, but the current owners are gradually working to restore its grandeur, thanks to donations from passing tourists. This Kasbah interior stands out in stark contrast to the crumbling earthen exterior, with its painted living room walls, decorative doors, shiny zelliges (tiles), intricate iron window grilles, and intricately carved ceilings decorated using saffron and henna.

We returned to Marrakech at the end of the day, tired but relieved not to have had an accident along this formidable winding mountain road. Our trip through Morocco was almost over and we were due to fly to Madrid the next afternoon on the way back. We were tired of traveling after five weeks of traveling, counting our three weeks of driving in Spain, and we were looking forward to the July chill in Melbourne! A word of advice for travelers who are planning a trip to Morocco, do not do it in summer!

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