On location. As in “on location” making a movie. Just when you thought you’d pretty much figured out Morocco they take you to Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate and suddenly you’re in Game of Thrones, Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, or even Lawrence of Arabia! That’s right, Hollywood in Morocco.
It turns out that dozens and dozens of some of Kongo’s favorite movies were made here. Atlas Studios, purportedly the largest studio in the world (in land area), isn’t exactly a Universal Studios experience. No rides. And it’s pretty freaking hot stuck out there in the middle of the desert.
If you’re a film junkie this is one place you don’t want to pass up. Now the sets are slowly falling apart in the desert environment but you can still recognize familiar scenes from the big screen. Kongo was shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that those giant Egyptian temples in Mummy are actually made out of styrofoam and plastic. Sheesh. No wonder they’re falling apart.
Ben Hur in Ben Hur roamed these streets. Jedi Warriors hung out nearby. Patton’s tanks crashed through deserts landscapes on the near horizon. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett did Babel here.
Bruce, one of our group, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play Pharaoh for a few minutes. Bruce also let a snake handler in Marrakech put a live, slithering cobra around his neck and in a Berber village market hopped on a stool to let a barber trim his hair so that says something about Bruce: No fear!
Mrs. Kongo snuggles up to the Egyptian god Khnum in the hall of plaster columns depicting a movie-inspired depiction of a temple on the Nile.
Janice checks out the details of a weathering overhang leading to a “typical village market” scene that has appeared in a lot of movies.
Russel Crowe hung out here while spending some prison time filming Gladiator.
The Tibetan temple from the movie Kundun.
Morocco makes a lot of sense for a movie. Great scenery, plenty of extras can be had at a price well below what you pay in LA, and the country has a long-term, politically stable government that allows people to safely blow things up in war scenes (Blackhawk Down was filmed near here), ride across the desert, and pretend you’re on another planet.
If you’re really a movie buff, you can learn about all the movies filmed at the studios here. It’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours. No real shopping opportunities and the culture rush is absent. But still … it’s kind of like the “Mystery Spot” you see on a cross-country trip. You’ve gotta stop.
The city of Ouarzazate prides itself on its movie heritage and the symbol of the town is a movie reel. It is also known as the gateway to the desert as it sits on a plateau just south of the High Atlas Mountains. To the south of the city is nothing. Nothing but sand and Sahara. It’s the end of the world.
There’s also a pretty cool Kasbah in Ouarzazate and Kongo will write about that tomorrow.
Travel safe. Have fun!