African Hollywood

Back on the road again, with Sarah and Eitan providing scintillating company.

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We made a stop at the particularly photogenic Kasbah Taourirt. The el Glaoui clan controlled one of the major southern caravan routes to West Africa and were given extensive power by the French during colonial rule in exchange for keeping the southern tribes subdued. The Taourirt Kasbah was built in the 19th century and reached the height of importance during the 1930s, when the el Glaoui powers were at their peak. We did not get in as later in the day we would visit a better Kasbah.

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Then on to Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Morocco!

With Morocco’s biggest studios inviting many international companies to work here, films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), 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.

We stopped to tour the most famous studio here, the Altas studios. It was the first film studio located in North Africa, the site is spread over 20 hectares and offers all necessary services and equipment for productions: exterior and interior sets, production offices, workshops, stables with trained animals and accommodation in the Oscar Hotel.

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This was a bit bizarre, as here we were in the middle of the desert, walking through a backlot that rivaled those back home. Dan, who never met a set he didn’t love, was enthralled. Fittingly, most of the sets were of Middle Eastern locales, however, the first one was weirdly the Tibetan monastery from Scorsese’s film, “Kundun.”

This is the slave market from the movie Gladiator, Eitan’s all time irrefutable favorite movie.

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Then it was on to ancient Egypt and Jerusalem, with everything from looming temples to modest huts (which looked pretty much like the real buildings that were just outside the studio). Productions like “The Mummy,” “The Red Tent” and “Game of Thrones” have been shot here.

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This was Moses house from the Ten Commandments:

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Eitan catapulting Sarah into Valhala, using the Asterix and Obelix catapult!

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We stopped for an attractive lunch where we ate a delicious Tajine for the thousand time, at this point,  we were getting a little tired of the “lack” of options.

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Then, we walked to the famous Aït Benhaddou. This is a spectacular World Heritage site – an ighrem (fortified village) built into a mountain along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.

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Elly was thrilled to find a sign for the synagogue.

Inside the walls of the ksar are half a dozen (Kasbahs) or merchants houses and other individual dwellings, and is a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture.

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We walked the narrow streets and alleyways of the largely deserted but quite intact ancient center of trade.

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The Ksar and other fortified towns in the area may owe their existence to the presence of the Trans-Saharan Trade Route. This route connected the North African coast, Europe, and the Levant to sub-Saharan Africa. Trade goods, including gold, salt, and African slaves passed through these routes beginning in ancient times, and reaching a peak between the 8 th century A.D. and the late 16 th century A.D. With such traffic along the trade route, it would be reasonable for locals to take advantage of the situation and earn a living by providing shelter, food and drink to the travelling merchants. The presence of such valuable trade goods in their towns, however, would have attracted bandits or raiding nomads. Therefore, defensive walls were necessary to ensure the safety of both the inhabitants of the city and their wealthy customers.

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Many films have been shot here, mainly as a replacement of Jerusalem.

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Ultimately, we reached the top.

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The view was nice from up there.

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According to local belief, the Ksar was founded in 757 A.D. by Ben-Haddou, whose tomb is said to lie somewhere in the city.

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Among the many films shot at this location was “Gladiator.” The famous scene shot here is the first gladiator arena where he is chained to the African guy and they kick ass together.

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So, of course, Eitan and Hassan had to do the right and mature thing, and attack each other.

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We walked back to the car, here are a couple more photos of this amazing place:

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On we drove over the High Atlas Mountains, which reach over 13,000 feet. Adding to the adventure of snaking over these peaks was the fact they were working on the road. But we descended safely.

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All of this driving got us a bit giddy, with Hassan telling his favorite bad Moroccan jokes.

Bonus Pic Of The Day: The Berber Alphabet, known as Tifinagh, looks like Alien symbols. The Tifinagh alphabet is thought to have derived from the ancient Berber script and it is used to write Tamazight, a family of Berber languages spoken by between 16 and 30 million people mainly in Morocco and Algeria, and also in Libya, Mali, Niger, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Mauritania.

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