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Ouarzazate History

Situated at an altitude of 1,160 m in the middle of a bare plateau, Ouarzazate lies south of the High Atlas Mountains, well placed at the center of routes going north, south, east, and west. It is the capital of a large province, the northern limits of which run along the southern side of the High Atlas, its southern boundaries disappearing into the desert. It is essentially populated by Berbers, responsible for the construction of the numerous fortified dwellings, kasbahs, for which the region is famous. It is one of Morocco's major holiday destinations, not so much for the attractions of the town, but as a base from which to visit the kasbahs of the Dades and Draa Valleys, and from which to set off on excursions into the desert.  Hot and dry in summer, Ouarzazate can be very cold in winter, with icy winds sweeping down from the High Atlas Mountains,

Although surface finds of Palaeolithic tools have been made all around Ouarzazate, the town is a modern creation. Certainly the Glaoui family, Pashas of Marrakech in the late 19th and 20th centuries, had a kasbah here, but Ouarzazate was really only created by the French at the end of the 1920s, when they turned it into a garrison town as part of their pacification of the Berber tribes of south Morocco after the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1912. 

It took off as a major holiday resort in the mid-1980s and has been booming ever since, with an increasing number of new top-class hotels. It has also acquired a vocation as a film-making location, with Morocco's biggest studios welcoming many international film companies. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here in the 1960s, and in 1996 Martin Scorsese used Ouarzazate as the setting for his film, Kundun, the story of the Dalai Lama's childhood and adolescence. It seems that the beauty and uniqueness of the Tibetan landscapes could best be recreated here! And the Atlas Studios were able to provide the base for the con­struction of the Dalai Lama's residences (parts of the film were also shot in Marrakech and Casablanca).  Other movies filmed nearby were The Mountains of the Moon and Star Wars

  The area is also known for its Ouazguita carpets (geometric designs of red-orange on black background) and its exotic charm. 

The ksar of Ait Benhaddou is one of the most beautiful in Morocco and was recently classified as part of the world heritage by UNESCO. Mostly uninhabited, the fortified village is a fine example of clay architecture.

Ouarzazate  |  Morocco History