Morocco Part II: Exploring Ouarzazate
We rise early in the morning on our first day and enjoy a Moroccan breakfast, complete with traditional mint tea and talkative little birds flitting about in search of edible scraps. Jamal tells us that Ouarzazate is primarily a Berber town and that its name means ‘without confusion or noise’.
We head out soon afterwards, and our adventure begins with a visit to the Kasbah Taourirt. This tantalising construct was built by the El Glaoui chiefs, who are better known to Westerners as the Lords of the Atlas. The El Glaoui controlled most of North Africa until Morocco gained independence in 1956.
The imposing yet charming palace contains 300 rooms, each with its own unique scattering of ornate ceilings and wall tiles. Most of it has been created from simple clay and straw, the parts that are visible outside inspired by the colours of the surrounding Saharan desert.
After a short walk around the winding maze of streets that make up the town, we depart for nearby Aït Benhaddou – a ksar (literally ‘castle’ but more like a handful of houses that make up a closely populated village) between Marrakech and the Sahara that has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. Just 11 families remain here now as the ksar suffers terrible damage with every rainstorm.
Aït Benhaddou is notable for its connections to the international film industry. Films such as The Mummy, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven were all shot here, and the local families who live close by find work when crews move in to make a new movie. It’s strange to think that most of them will have never actually watched a film.
My travelling companion Rosie (a.k.a. The Londoner) was pretty excited about Russell Crowe having armour on…