Morocco 2017 – Atlas Film Studio

We left frosty Skoura this morning to head inland to Ouarazazate. After stopping to tour the Kasbah Taourirt, our next stop is the Atlas Film Studio. When Doug was drawing up our itinerary a few months ago, I asked if we could take this 45 minute detour, so I could wave at the area as we drove by.  I was both surprised and delighted when we pulled up to the gates, where we were met by a guide who gave us a tour of the studio. (Header photo courtesy of Mark Charteris)

Atlas Studios is the second largest film studio in the world behind Hollywood.  The studio and the surrounding area have been the site of filming for Asterix, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Man Who Would Be King, Kundun, The Mummy Returns and Game of Thrones (Season 3).  

The pink stucco front gate is flanked by Egyptian figures and Chinese Fu-dogs.  Just inside the gate, in the parking lot, were a pair of Roman chariots and a reed boat on a trailer.

We were escorted past a set where filming was taking place (King Tut maybe)

Filming King Tut, we think. Photo courtesy of Brenda Dougal-Merriman.

… and into a dark hall of columns where Cleopatra was filmed …

We walked along the back of a set, supported by scaffolding, and into the courtyard where Moses was filmed.  I remarked on a flowering tree in the courtyard, which the guide said was ‘in bloom’ because flowers were taped onto it.

We are led down an alleyway of another set, and then through a pair of tall, narrow doors, and onto the set for The Mummy Returns.  

At this point the guides stopped to let people take photos on the steps of this set. Our guide takes my camera and I strike a pose, and wait, and strike the same pose again.  It takes him a minute to catch on, and then another minute before he stops laughing long enough to take this shot. By now, quite the crowd has stopped to watch.  At the end of our ‘photo shoot’ he gives me the stage name of “Fatima Tagine” which I adopt for the rest of the day. 

Around the next corner is the set for Tut and Asterix.  

I can see the set for Kingdom of Heaven in the distance, one of the largest free-standing sets built at the time, and beg the guide to take us there. It’s not part of the tour and so he declines.  I’m simultaneously disappointed at not being able to touch the walls of Jerusalem, and elated to see it in person, even from this distance.  I start taking zoom shots …

I linger as long as I can before the group wanders on. We pass Cleopatra’s milk bath pool, and an ark, and a catapult …

… and end up in a Chinese building that turns out to be the set for Kundun.

I would later learn that Moroccan craftsmen built the sets, as well as props and costumes for this film. The King of Morocco is very supportive of the film industry and has several times lent the Moroccan Army as extras for the epic films being produced here.  

We have lunch on the outdoor terrace of the studio restaurant, which affords us a view of actors coming and going from the micro-apartments that are across the way. I’m still scheming how to sneak out to the Kingdom of Heaven set, but any plan I might have devised is thwarted by our need to hit the road to get to our next destination.

Farewell Atlas Studios! What a fun and totally unexpected treat this was!

Fatima Tagine (tries to) Walk Like an Egyptian

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