Ouarzazate (pronounced ‘war-za-zat’) is a Berber phrase meaning ‘without noise’ or ‘without confusion’ and it’s most famous for the location of the Kasbah-town of Aït Ben-Haddou, one of the world’s finest examples of North African pisé clay architecture dating back a thousand years.
Linking ancient Sudan with Marrakech, the town was a strategically important crossing point for traders from all over Africa looking to expand their markets into northern Africa and Europe. Ouarzazate is one of the most perfectly preserved examples of the Morocco we have all seen in a thousand movies and to the south sits the fearsome 9.4million square km Sahara desert and many excursions into the sand start from Ouarzazate.
In the 1920s, a modern garrison town was established to look after France’s colonial interests in the region and after the French protectorate left in the 1950s, the movie business took over and hasn’t looked back. Notwithstanding the port of Pentos, one of the Free Cities in Game of Thrones, the Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate – the world’s largest film studio complex – has been used to depict places as diverse as ancient Rome, Tibet, Egypt, Somalia and dozens of Middle Eastern locations and is colloquially known as ‘Ouallywood’.
Boiling hot in the summer (36°C – 40°C) but thanks to the icy winds that shank off the High Atlas Mountains, the winters can get down as low as 1°C – 3°C. Since the eyes of the world’s film location scouts are permanently here, the area has developed quickly and now includes hotels, restaurants, shops, apartments and public spaces and with plenty of small businesses offering the hire of cars, motorbikes and even camels, your trip into the heart of the Sahara is well taken care of.