I know you are probably wondering how in the world to pronounce the name of this Moroccan city. Well, wonder no more. “Ou” sounds like our “W”, so when you come to Morocco and want to stay near the movie set for Game of Thrones, book a riad in “ WAR-za-zat”.
We spent two nights in Ouarzazate, staying at the beautiful Dar Kalifa. During the 1900’s our riad was the court house of Pasha Glaoui. This very powerful Bedouin chieftain was France’s ally against Sultan Mohammed V, and was instrumental in getting the Sultan exiled to Madagascar in 1953.
Unfortunately for France and the Pasha, the Sultan was beloved by many Moroccans. His removal resulted in unrest and uprisings in Morocco. As a result, de Gaulle reinstated Mohammed V (who changed his title from sultan to king) in 1956; simultaneously Morocco gained its independence. Pasha Glaoui had clearly made the wrong choice. So what became of this traitor? He traveled to Paris, knelt at the feet of in submission to Mohammed V, who forgave him. Their actions reunited the warring factions and made it easier for Mohammed V to regain his throne. Glaoui died of cancer in 1956, Mohammed V died in 1961.
I have to admit, it was pretty thrilling to think about all the history that must have taken place within the walls of our riad. It isn’t easy to find—you walk along some narrow passages to get there, but it is worth the walk to discover this spectacular dwelling.
Be forewarned: there are MANY steps in Dar Kalifa, and they all seem to be a different size.
Can you guess why Ouarzazate’s nickname is WallyWood? The dramatic scenery and the perfect lighting from sun filled days have made it a favorite spot for film makers.
Many of the locals work as “extras” in movies like Gladiator. Our local guide, Mohammed has been in several movies. Here’s his picture, so you can look for him in Season 4 of Game of Thrones.
Mohammed never had the opportunity to attend school. He spent his childhood ferrying tourists across the river on his donkey. Although he was never taught to read and write, he became fluent in English, French, Spanish and a few other languages, by listening to tourists he transported. I find that amazing—what an impressive and intelligent man!
Mohammed’s children: 2 girls, aged 13 and 6 and 1 boy aged 10, all attend school, and are teaching their dad to read. Mohammed told us he thought his family was complete, but his “coronavirus baby” arrived 8 months ago!
Most tourists visiting the area want to spend time in Ait Benhaddou, stopping at one of the two studios in town. Before Covid, Mohammed told us during high season Ait Benhaddou received more than 1,000 tourists per day.
Instead, we visited Asfalou Village, for what OAT calls “A Day in the Life”. There, we spent the morning with an extended family, visit their home, learning how the women make bread and the men make bricks.
For the afternoon, we visited the Women’s Association, a beneficiary of the Grand Circle Foundation. The Association’s objectives are to build women’s self confidence and to empower them. The women learn to bake cookies, which are sold to hotels and to tourists. We sampled some during our visit and they were so delicious, we all bought more.
While there, we all decorated our bodies with henna—even the men.
But the highlight, for me at least, was playing dress up. Unfortunately, my first choice for spouse was feeling under the weather that day, so I had to go with a substitute for this Berber wedding.
For you movie buffs, I’ll end with a list of some of the movies and TV shows filmed in this area.
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) The Man Who Wished To Be King (1975)
- The Message (1976)
- Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Bandits, Bandits (1981)
- The Diamond of the Nile (1985)
- Killing is not playing (1987) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
- Tea in the Sahara (1990) Kundun (1997)
- The Mummy (1999)
- Gladiator (2000)
- Alexander (2004)
- Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Babel (2006)
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
- Game of Thrones (season 3, 2013)
- Game of Thrones (season 4)
For the curious—the photo at the top of this post shows the artist doing paintings using a sort of “invisible ink”. He heats the paper over the flame to make the colors appear. This “invisible ink” , used for secret messages sent during French occupation, has been repurposed!