Ouarzazate is home to film studios, and films such as Laurence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator have been filmed there. If you were going to head on to the Sahara desert, this is the last city of note that you’d encounter and is a gateway to the Sahara.
As a destination, there wasn’t actually much to see beyond the so-so film museum (the highlight being wearing actual costumes from the film Gladiator, and getting to see some pristine condition, vintage film-making equipment), however the drive from Marrakech to Ouarzazate was amazing, and included some breathtaking scenery.
Some time into the drive, we arrived at Ait Benhaddou, which is a UNESCO heritage listed fortified Berber town. It lies in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains, along the old trade route connecting Sudan and Marrakech.
Ait Benhaddou was built using pre-Saharan construction techniques (ramming mass worked into panel brick and bull header, ordinary moulded earth, clay brick, etc.). Although the structures here date back no further than the 17th century, research has shown that the techniques used could date as far back as the 8th century.
Most people live in a more modern town nearby now, however the old Kasbah is fascinating to walk through.
I’d never seen dried clay like this in such abundance. It created quite an amazing effect. The “river” consisted of nothing but a trickle of water – more of a small stream than a river. Despite having several accessible crossing points, local children were on hand to help out tourists – for something in return of course.
We all crossed ourselves but one of my friends was unable to avoid 2 of the children. He gave the children his newly purchased bottle of Sprite, and they seemed to be happy with the exchange.
Several films have filmed scenes at Ait Benhaddou, including The Living Daylights, The Mummy, and Gladiator.