The minute we made the decision to travel to Morocco last year, my mind was filled with the things we would see! Tibetan temples, Egyptian ruins, ancient Rome! No, my geography skills aren’t off, I was thinking about Atlas studios.
Hidden in the High Atlas Mountains, Atlas Studios is the world’s largest studio space, and the location (along with the surrounding area) for such iconic films as ‘Gladiator’, ‘Cleopatra’, and ‘Jewel of the Nile’. It’s even the location for much of the action in ‘Game of Thrones’, and if you’ve followed the fortunes of the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, you may have seen the location used at a ‘Need for Speed’ styled racetrack in ‘The Grand Tour’!
As something of a film buff, I was thrilled at the opportunity to stand in front of sets for movies I’d grown up watching. Eight days in to our tour of Morocco, after a night in a Chefchaouen, a city of blue, after a couple of days in Fes, the largest pedestrian centre in the world, and after a night in the Sahara Desert, we found our way to the lot which is just across the range from Marrakesh (no more than 6 hours of driving).
If you’re expecting the glitz and glamour of an American studio, you’ll be disappointed, but if you want to wander through the set of ‘Ben Hur’, or sneak through Thebes, you might have come to the right place.
We arrived just before the gates opened for the morning tour and secured our tickets at the hotel concierge desk and immediately regretted staying in nearby Ouarzazate. The lavish, movie-themed lobby seemed like just the place for a day’s rest (although in hindsight, I’m glad we stuck mainly to more traditional Riads for the trip).
Neither Linh or I are very interested in guided tours, so we managed to slip away and asked to be allowed to wander through the lot of our own accord. Having seen most of the films represented by sets on the lot, and by following the basic signage, we were quite able to find our way around. We even found time and space without other visitors to shoot a short film for a laugh.
The entire tour took little more than an hour; however, we could have stayed for a great deal longer without losing our interest. On this day though, we were eager to push on over the mountains to Marrakesh, with a short stop at the fortress of Ait Bin Haddon.