Strategically located Ouarzazate (war-zazat) has gotten by largely on its wits instead of its looks. For centuries, people from the Atlas, Draa and Dadès Valleys converged to do business at Ouarzazate’s sprawling Taourirt Kasbah, and a modern garrison town was established here in the 1920s to oversee France’s colonial interests. The movie business gradually took off in Ouarzazate after the French protectorate left in the 1950s, and ‘Ouallywood’ movie studios have built quite a resume providing convincingly exotic backdrops for movies supposedly set in Tibet, ancient Rome, Somalia and Egypt.
Since King Mohammed VI started visiting here and fixing up the roads, Ouarzazate has been developing quickly with vast new residential areas marked out to the south of town along with new condo-hotel complexes, a spacious pedestrian plaza and well-stocked supermarkets. With scores of agencies offering bikes, motorbikes and camels, this is an ideal launching pad for mountains, desert and gorges.
(French pronunciation: [waʁzazat]; Arabic: ورزازات Warzāzāt; Tachelhit: ⵡⴰⵔⵣⴰⵣⴰⵜ Warzazat; Spanish: Uarzazat), nicknamed the door of the desert, is a city and capital of Ouarzazate Province in Drâa-Tafilalet region of south-central Morocco. Ouarzazate is at an elevation of 1,160 metres (3,810 ft) in the middle of a bare plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains, with a desert to the city’s south.
Berber-speakers make up the majority of the town’s inhabitants, who were responsible for the creation of many of the prominent kasbahs (locally referred to as: iɣeṛman). Ouarzazate is a primary tourist destination in Morocco for holidays, as well as a starting point for excursions into and across the Draa Valley and the desert. Aït Benhaddou (a fortified village) west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ouarzazate area is a noted film-making location, with Morocco’s biggest studios inviting many international companies to work here. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Living Daylights (1987), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Kundun (1997), Legionnaire (1998), Hanna (2011), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) were shot here, as was part of the TV series Game of Thrones.
The nearby Ouarzazate solar power station, co-funded by the Arab League, was connected to the Moroccan power grid in February 2016.
For a long time, Ouarzazate was a small crossing point for African traders on their way to northern Morocco and Europe. In the 16th century, Sheikh Abu al-‘Abaas Ahmed bin Abdellah al-Wizkiti al-Warzazi, amir of the qasba of Warzazat and father of Lalla Masuda, helped establish Saadi control over the Sous-Dra’a region.
During the French period, Ouarzazate expanded considerably as a garrison town, administrative centre and customs post. It is home to the Kasbah Taourirt, which was the kasbah of the former caïd and later owned by T’hami El Glaoui. The Krupp field gun which secured Glaoui power is displayed outside the kasbah today.
The area is also known for its Ouazguita carpets with geometric designs of red-orange on black background.
Sights around Ouarzazate
- Tifoultoute Kasbah
- Fint Oasis
- Jbel Adad Petroglyphs
- Iguernan Nature Reserve
- Ksar Ait Benhaddou
- Ounila Valley
- Skoura Oasis
- Stork’s Kasbah
- CLA Studios
- Atlas Film Studios
- The Abandoned “Hills Have Eyes” movie set
- Tizgui Waterfall
- Al Mansour Dahbi Dam
- Gazelle Animal Natural Reserve of Bouljir
Detailed maps are hard to obtain in Morocco. The French IGN mapping at a 1:100,000 scale has been reproduced by the Moroccan Division de la carte. These maps are often out of date and obtained with special permission in Rabat. Soviet mapping on a 1:200,000 scale is available on the Internet, but these are generally outdated and show the names of places in Cyrillic letters.
A new series of maps are available, including the Ouarzazate Region (Map) (1st ed.). 1:160,000 Map and Guide. Atlas Mountains Morocco. Cartography by EWP. EWP and WCP. 2008. ISBN 978-0-906227-99-2.