Daily Archives: 19 July 2007

The Moroccan Hollywood



The UNESCO World Heritage Committee met again, at the end of June, in New Zealand.

I looked into this whole business of UNESCO World Heritage sites and was surprised to find that in Spain alone, there is this very impressive list of World Heritage locations:

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

Burgos Cathedral

Doñana National Park

Historic Centre of Cordoba

Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid

Works of Antoni Gaudí

Altamira Cave

Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias

Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches

Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct

Santiago de Compostela (Old Town)

Garajonay National Park

Historic City of Toledo

Mudejar Architecture of Aragon

Old Town of Cáceres

Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville

Old City of Salamanca

Poblet Monastery

Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida

Route of Santiago de Compostela

Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Historic Walled Town of Cuenca

La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia

Las Médulas

Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona

Pyrénées – Mont Perdu

San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries

Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula

University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares

Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco

Archaeological Site of Atapuerca

Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí

Palmeral of Elche

Roman Walls of Lugo

Aranjuez Cultural Landscape

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza

Vizcaya Bridge

Teide National Park

On this blog, I have looked into topics like the Alhambra, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and the Route of Santiago de Compostela already, and I am planning to cover other sites from the impressive UNESCO list in due course. Provided that you want to know about these things, that is.

UNESCO say that Heritage is our legacy from the past, that we live with today, and that we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America, make up the world’s heritage.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.


That’s why today, I want to tell you about a UNESCO site not in Spain, but in Morocco. Spain’s neighboring country which at times seems so far away from us, and the site of Ksar Aït Ben-Haddou, have deserved a little attention.

Ksar of Aït Ben-Haddou (see photo above), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh, is situated in southern Morocco in the Ouarzazate province. The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Aït Ben-Haddou is a striking example of this type of architecture of southern Morocco.

Aït Ben-Haddou and the Ouarzazate part of Morocco are famous for being the film locations in a number of Hollywood epics, and non-Hollywood as well.

Mohamed Belghimi, in 1983, opened Morocco’s first film studios at the edge of Ouarzazate. And ever since, business has been booming. Michael Douglas’ “The Jewel of the Nile”, Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun”, Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” – were all filmed here, at the Atlas Film Studios. As were Gerard Depardieu in “Asterix and Cleopatra” and Brad Pitt in “Babel”, all filmed in the south of Morocco.

What makes Ouarzazate particularly funny is that this Moroccan Hollywood does not have a single cinema. Apparently. But you would not come to Aït Ben-Haddou and go to the movies, would you?