Morocco has encouraged film production since Mohammed VI became king in 1999 and thanks to cheap labor and beautiful landscapes that can be passed off as just about anywhere, the film industry has become big business. Ouarzazate is home to Atlas Studios, the largest film studio in the world. More than half of the city’s population is or has been employed by the film industry in one way or another, from set designers to extras. Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Star Wars are just a few of the many films shot in and around Ouarzazate.
We visited the cinema museum and played around on some old movie sets. Close up, mosaics were screen prints pasted on balsa wood and golden thrones were plastic and hollow.
Across the street from the cinema museum is the kasbah, or fortress.
The kasbah is a network of walkways and rooms, some with beautiful views.
In the afternoon, itching for some physical activity, we rented bikes with the goal of reaching the water reservoir seen in the picture above. It was rumored that the king was staying somewhere in the area we rode through, and guards were posted every so often along the road. At one point, the guards stood at attention, saluting. I like to think that the king passed us in his car, or that Ouarzazate considered us very important tourists. When cars and large trucks weren’t zooming past, forcing us off the paved road onto the gravel shoulder, the ride through the stunning landscape was peaceful. The sun set quickly over the red craggy earth as we rode back into town.
The next morning we set off to Essaouira via Marrakech, a full six or seven hours by bus.
En route we stopped in a small town and popped into an Argan oil cooperative. The Argan tree looks kind of like an olive tree and Argan nuts even look similar to olives. The trees once covered all of north Africa but now only grow in southwest Morocco. I’ve seen pictures of goats in these trees, eating the argan nuts. Apparently locals used to collect the undigested argan pits from the goat’s poo. Now, the pits are processed by machines. The women at the cooperative process the oil (which is used for cooking and cosmetic purposes) in the traditional way: by first cracking the pits with rocks before grinding them with a stone press.