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Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

Manchester, United...
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Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

So I wasn't disappointed when I saw how ostentatious Ait Benhaddou was as I was aware that Hollywood had 'touched it up'. How much though? So the classic image:

flickr.com/photos/…set-72157631375286462

clearly all looks as though it's been made by Hollywood, but then inside, like the following images:

flickr.com/photos/…

flickr.com/photos/…

flickr.com/photos/…

these appear much more derelict looking and therefore I was unsure how much of this was Hollywood restoration that has since been neglected or how much was how Ait Benhaddou was before the film studios messed with it. I also deduced that sure there must have been some features of Ait Benhaddou that attracted Hollywood to the site in the first place - otherwise, they could just create a citadel much closer to Ouarzazate...or indeed anywhere.

What do people know/think about this?

9 replies to this topic
Castril De La Pena...
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1. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

Very little I'm afraid. I first visited in the 1970s and it was semi ruins, much worse than any of your photos. More interesting as it was more or less original, and best of all there was practically nothing on the west bank of the river. Nowadays the jumble of west bank buildings and lack of planning rules means you can't even see the ksar from the road!

Despite many claims to the contrary, Lawrence of Arabia (released 1962) wasn't filmed at ABH--most of the scenes were filmed in either in Jordan or Spain. The only LOA bit filmed in Morocco was the Tafas massacre scene shot to the north of Ouarzazate with Moroccan army acting as extras.

One of the earliest films to use ABH as a backdrop was 'The Man who would be King' starting Michael Caine and Sean Connery (released 1975). The Todra gorge stood in for the the Indian North West's Kyber Pass scene.

I understand some rebuilding took place for the filming of 'Jesus of Nazareth' (released 1977). Since then much building work has been done. More recently some idiot decided a modern concrete bridge would be a good idea.

Here's some photos of another ksar (fortified village) which is much more what ABH looked like in the 1970s: morocco-knowledgebase.net/forum/…

There are many other film sets in the Ouarzazate area, see morocco-knowledgebase.net/forum/… and post #17 at morocco-knowledgebase.net/forum/…

Manchester, United...
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2. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

Thanks for your reply Tim, very interesting. Our trip to Ait Benhaddou was more just using that site as an end destination, as I really wanted to see some Berber villages that I think you told me about in a previous thread.

I think another film that used the site extensively was the 1962-3 version of Soddom & Gomorrah, which coincidently is currently on BBC iplayer now, so you could quickly look at some of the back drops they used. It looks very built up then too so maybe it was demolished again for when you visited? I read somewhere it has been modelled and then remodelled several times. It makes me curious as to why they chose that site in the first place if eventually it ended up being little more than Hollywood's perception of what a Middle Eastern (not even North African!) citadel should have looked like.

I'm going to check out the links you've provided now....

Manchester, United...
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3. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

I loved looking at your first link....thanks for the info you provide ;-)

Castril De La Pena...
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4. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

Certainly it's set in ABH. No buildings on the west bank.

As you will have seen from the photos above of the Kingdom of Heaven film set it's practically impossible to detect what's real and what's plasterboard without going up to it and rapping your knuckles on it. So I guess some of the what you see on the film was created specially.

It's in a good setting for filming and the upper levels surrounding what was an agadir (fortified warehouse) at the very top are the same as today.

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5. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

Hi Tim

You seem to know the area well .... a bit of advise if you would be so kind. I have recentlyh had a knee op and would love to go to see Ait Beh Haddou but worried about the inclines .... Is it a trip worth taking if I am still on crutches?

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6. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

jovidiva1 I would be very wary of doing an Ait Ben Haddou trip given your condition.

Firstly you don't say how you will travel there. I went in March this year suffering from a knee injury that I had had some months. I hadn't appreciated how long I would be travelling and how cramped the conditions of the minibus would be.

On arrival we had a reasonable walk to the river bank and then had to go down stone steps of various stages of deterioration and differing heights and angles. Once on the river bank it was a stony/gravelly walk to the stepping stones across. I had already felt uncomfortable getting down to the river and there was no way I was going to use the stepping stones (to be fair, I don't 'do' wobbly bridges, stepping stones etc well at the best of times) so I ended up paddling my way across. The the walk along the shore to the step up the other bank. By this point I knew I wasn't going to make it up to the better points of ABH and be able to take in the views. I arranged with the guide that I would stay at the lower level by the shops and he would pick me up on the way down. The journey back across the river was via the concrete bridge. I had no problems waiting at the lower level and one of the shop keepers provided me with a (low) stool to sit on. The men down there were actually very kind and there was no hard sell - in fact there was no sales pitch at all which was wonderful as I was then able to admire and talk about the various objects.

So, personally, I would suggest that this is probably not going to be a practical location for you to visit. That being said, you may be way more mobile on your crutches than I am without!

Stockholm, Sweden
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7. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

The first time I was on Ait Benhaddou it was in year 2000 and it was really nice, exciting I can tell, remains of ruin and you had to have the good imagination to imagine how it could be since long ago.

There were no houses on the other side of the river and if they were there, it was so few that they barely not did appear and therefore I not remember them.

Last year, I was mighty disappointed when I was in Ait Benhaddou second time. So many hotel, so many buildings, so many people. So many shops inside the ksar, not to talk about the stores outside. So I do not ever want to go there to not be disappointed even more, want to keep the picture I had 13 years ago.

Too bad that because of hollywood movies disappear or rather destroyed so many authentic places. They would restore it afterwards to the original, or?

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8. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

Khamlia I have to disagree with your last paragraph. I am a British cinema professional who has worked for many different Hollywood studios and I must stress that our code of conduct is very strict in terms of restoring locations to the state we found them in before filming. Unless, that is, that the community in question requests that the "enhancement" made for filming remain in situ for the benefit of the locals, if indeed it is not just a temporary-type structure. This is always enshrined in a written legal contract. We never just walk away and leave a messy eyesore.

Moreover, the growth around the area is probably due to the money earned by the local populace in the last 10 or 15 years as craftsmen, labourers and extras. The movie industry is like manna from heaven for them. No doubt they used the money they earned to open souvenir shops etc. Not only do they get a chance to earn whilst filming is in progress, but then they benefit from the tourism than seems to be a natural follow-on when a film becomes a major hit and then all the tourists want to go and look at the locations where it was filmed. Filming is only a relatively rare occurrence. Tourism is an around the year happening. It's self perpetuating.

Edited: 14 September 2013, 18:35
Stockholm, Sweden
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9. Re: Ait Benhaddou - how much of it is pre-Hollywood

I know Zohor, but anyway I think it is sad. I remember when I was visiting Knossos how disappointed I was to see all those attempts to renovate the palace as far as it got. I'm probably very conservative in that regard LOL.

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