We leave Marrakech at 7.30am in a private vehicle or minivan. It’s an early start, but worth it to see some of the most magnificent kasbahs in Morocco. We take the road south, climbing up the High Atlas Mountains and crossing the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass, also known as the ‘Gateway to the Sahara’, which at 2260m is the highest pass in Morocco. After this the landscape turns to the unmistakable red colour of the clay soil and becomes rocky and inhospitable. Our fist stop isthe UNESCO World Heritage site of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, situated on a hillside overlooking the Ounilariver and what was once an important trading route. This beautiful fortified town (Ksar means “fortified town” in Berber) dates back to the 18th century, and is made up of layer upon layer of connected terraced “Kasbah” (or houses), all surrounded by a high wall. It is one of the best examples of earthen construction in existence, and its striking red colour against the dark blue African sky is truly breathtaking. The place may seem strangely familiar to you, as (unsurprisingly, perhaps) many films have been shot here, including epics such as Lawrence of Arabia, Marco Polo and Gladiator, and more recently, Asterix and Obelix. We have lunch here, before continuing to the city of Ouarzazate (which means “noiselessly” in Berber). This large city on the edge of the Sahara desert is the capital of the Ouarzazate Province. There are many things to see in Ouarzazate : such as the beautiful medina built of the same red clay, which is so typical of the region; and Taourirt Kasbah. This sumptuous 19th century palace, comprising some 300 rooms, was home to some of the family of theinfamous T’hami El Glaoui or ‘Lord of the Atlas’, a feudal warlord of the early 20th century who, supported by the Colonial French government, controlled all the caravan trade routes to West Africa and ruthlessly suppressed local rebellions. We will also visit Atlas Studios, one of the largest film studios in the world, and where the films mentioned previously were made. Its location here is the reason why Ouarzazate is sometimes referred to as the ‘African Hollywood’. We return to Marrakech late in the afternoon.
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