Some places look too perfect to be real, and the Ksar of Ai Ben Haddou is one of them. It’s absolutely stunning – a fantasy Arabian city rising up out of the desert. Like Ireland’s extraordinary Skellig Michael, it’s a place so remarkable that you’d easily believe it was the work of craftsmen and CGI wizards for blockbuster movie. I was fortunate to visit it on a tour of Morocco back in 2010 with Explore. We arrived shortly before sunset and were able to wander our way to the highest point for a stunning view as the light slowly changed.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444 and has been used so much in film and television that you’ve probably seen it without realising, or indeed known that it was a real place. The most recent film to my memory at the time was Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” and there was the occasional bit of helpful graffiti pointing you the way.
Having been there now whenever I watch any film with a desert location I’m always on the alert for it cropping up, and it usually does, just check out this list; http://www.ksaraitbenhaddou.com/filmes-ouarzazate-aitbenhaddou_en.html It was also used in Season 3 of Game of Thrones as one of the places Daenerys liberated slaves.
There is a cheat though – apparently the impressive gate towers were built for a film and were left standing afterwards, they do look very in keeping with the location.
Being Morocco it’s got tourists without being too touristy. You need your own transport or to be with a tour group to be able to get there. Staying in the village across from it means you get to see it in the early morning light and I don’t think you could ever tire of the view.
There’s a film studio on the edge of the nearby city of Ouarzazate, http://www.cla-studios.com/crbst_32.html and in the city itself is a fabulous film museum that I didn’t get enough time to properly explore but would happily go back and spend hours playing on the standing sets and admiring all the old camera equipment. As it wasn’t in our itinerary I begged for a quick look and had a whistle stop tour by an enthusiastic museum guide who didn’t speak English.
Rather randomly just a short drive from Ouarzazate there is a derelict America service station. It was built for the 2006 remake of “The Hills have Eyes” . It’s just been left as it probably was on the last day of filming – it’s one of the most unexpected and bizarre locations I’ve ever stumbled across.