My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To keep myself sane during the pandemic lockdown, I started reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text and additional photos.
My travels have taken me through Italy, Turkey and Spain. In 2017 I hit the top of my bucket list with a belated birthday gift to myself – a guided trip to Morocco. Today would bring an unexpected delight… (Header photo courtesy of Mark Charteris)
I wake up to catch the sunrise from my window at the Ait Ben Moro Kasbah, the golden sky reflecting in the skim of ice on the swimming pool. I’d give anything for a pair of wool socks. Today we leave for Ouarzazate to see the Kasbah Taourirt and the Atlas Film Studio where Kingdom of Heaven was filmed. We’ll log 200 miles today.
Atlas Film Studios is the second largest film studio in the world, behind Hollywood. 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. Several films were made here or in the surrounding area, including 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).
I was both surprised and delighted when we pulled up to a pink stucco front gate, 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, and a guide who gave us a tour.
We were escorted past a set where filming was taking place. We think it might be the new King Tut, photos courtesy of Brenda Dougal-Merriman.
Our guide then takes us into a dark hall of columns where Cleopatra was filmed. He told us that some of the images on these pillars were NSFW, though we did not linger long enough to find them.
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 actually built at an adjoining studio and is 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 and linger as long as I can before the group wanders on.
We pass Cleopatra’s milk bath pool, and an ark, and a catapult
I enter a Chinese themed building that turns out to be the set for Kundun. I get separated from my group so I make the best use of my time with my camera. The tour guide is relieved to finally find his Fatima Tagine safe and sound on this movie set, after he had reportedly looked ‘everywhere else.’
I would later learn that Moroccan craftsmen built the sets, as well as props and costumes for Kundun. The King of Morocco is very supportive of the film industry and has several times lent the Moroccan Army as extras to epic films being produced here. This link takes you to additional information about the film industry in Morocco.
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!