Morocco’s Abandoned Movie Sets in The Desert

In the early 1960s, movie director David Lean was scouting for locations to shoot his upcoming movie Lawrence of Arabia when he learned about Ouarzazate. This large desert town, nestled at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, in southern Morocco had exotic scenery, clear skies and friendly locals, providing an attractive location for movies involving ancient, desert-based story lines. Lean eventually shot most part of the movie in Spain, but many key scenes were also shot in Jordan and in Ouarzazate, such as the massacre of the Turkish Army in the town of Tafas.

Over the last fifty years, countless movies and TV series have been shot in Morocco, and in Ouarzazate in particular. These include The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Alexander (2004), Babel (2006), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), 13 Hours (2016), and part of the TV series Game of Thrones and Prison Break, just to name a few.

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The fake gas station used in the movie “The Hills Have Eyes” (2006) now lying abandoned near the Moroccan town of Agadir. Photo credit: Gilbert Sopakuwa/Flickr

Since 1983, the Atlas Film Corporation Studios located on the outskirts of town have been handling these productions. The Michael Douglas classic “The Jewel of the Nile” was their first film.

“Logistically, [Ouarzazate is] very good,” Amine Tazi, general manager at Atlas & CLA Studios told CNN in 2015. “Everything is very close by. Hotels are close by. People are very movie friendly and very efficient.”

Beyond the beautiful natural backdrops, Tazi’s studios offer filmmakers dozens of fake options such as Styrofoam Egyptian temples and plaster-cast Tibetan Palaces. Even National Geographic used one of his sets to film the mini-series “Killing Jesus”. Many of these sets were constructed in the desert far from the town and the studio, and after shooting was over, the crew simply packed up their gear and left. The crumbling sets depicting exotic Roman temples and places are now a huge draw for tourists and movie buffs the world over.

Morocco is also one of the safest countries in the Middle-East.

“Morocco is one of the countries that goes out of its way to welcome film makers,” Tony Reeves, writer of the Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, told CNN. “Technical crews in Morocco are well sought after — builders, painters, extras, electrical resources.”

Although foreign movies contribute significantly to Ouarzazate’s economy, it’s not fair to assume that abandoned movie sets are the only thing to see here. Ouarzazate is a beautiful city with a UNESCO World Heritage Site nearby—the fortified village of Aït Benhaddou which itself appeared in some two dozen movies.

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The city of Ouarzazate. Photo credit: Valdiney Pimenta/Flickr

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Two Egyptian statues stand at the Atlas Corporation Studios film studio in Ouarzazate. Photo credit: Yelo Jura / Shutterstock.com

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The fake gas station used in the movie “The Hills Have Eyes” (2006). Photo credit: orientalizing/Flickr

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Photo credit: Tomasz Dunn/Flickr

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Photo credit: Ronald Woan/Flickr

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Photo credit: Ronald Woan/Flickr

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Photo credit: Ronald Woan/Flickr

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Photo credit: Ronald Woan/Flickr

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Replica of a Buddhist monastery in Atlas Film Studios where film “Little Buddha” was filmed. Photo credit: Lukiyanova Natalia frenta / Shutterstock.com

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Replica of Cleopatra’s palace at Atlas Film Studios. Photo credit: Elzbieta Sekowska / Shutterstock.com

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The interior of an Egyptian temple at Atlas Film Studios. Photo credit: Elzbieta Sekowska / Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: dmitrieval / Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Laurens Hoddenbagh / Shutterstock.com

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The fortress or Kasbah of Taourirt, Ouarzazate. Photo credit: cheesewz/Flickr

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Tourist crossing a stream on camelback at Ait Benhaddou, near Ouarzazate. Photo credit: Kent MacElwee/Flickr

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