Named for its proximity to the Atlas Mountains, a range that stretches across northern Africa, Atlas Film Studios is the largest film studio in the world. Covering more than 322,000 square feet of desert, Atlas Film is located just five miles outside of Ouarzazate on the road to Marrakech and is a popular tourist destination, in part because the grounds are littered with old movie sets that are decaying in the harsh environment.
Atlas Film Studios wasn’t built until 1983 when Moroccan entrepreneur Mohamed Belghmi recognized the need for a permanent studio in the area. But Ouarzazate was first used as a movie location by acclaimed British director David Lean for his 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. Familiar with the area, Lean knew that the site could provide an authentic setting for any ancient, desert-based story.
Over the years, Ouarzazate has served as a shooting location for Alexander the Great, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, The Mummy (1999), Star Wars (1977), The Living Daylights (1987), Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997), and many others, including Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe, and Body of Lies (2008) also starring Russell Crowe along with Leonardo DiCaprio.
The first thing visitors to Atlas encounter is a massive prop jet plane that was used in 1985’s Jewel of the Nile. Out in the desert, one of the most popular attractions is the Colosseum where Crowe fought in Gladiator. Inside one of the first buildings, there is a replica “kasbah” with winding passageways and alleys. In another area of the studio, there is an Egyptian tomb with 12ft statues guarding the entrance and exit.
All in all a great tour with a great guide and well worth the money, but don’t be surprised by the state of disrepair that seems to have swept the site.