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I visited the world's largest film studio, where Moroccan locals are cast as everyone from Osama Bin Laden to Jesus and the desert is littered with the wreckage of 'Game of Thrones' and 'Gladiator'

Business Insider | Jan 11, 2019, 01.40AM IST

  • Atlas Film Studios is a 322,000 square-foot studio in southwestern Morocco that is considered to be the largest film studio in the world.
  • More than 200 major films and television shows have filmed there, including "Gladiator," "Ben Hur," "Kingdom of Heaven," "The Mummy," "The Passion of the Christ," and, most recently, "Game of Thrones" and "Aladdin."
  • Located in a stunning red desert landscape, Atlas is often used for its dramatic landscapes, the relative cheap cost of production, and its promixity to the striking medieval ksar of Aït Benhaddou, also a popular filming location.
  • I recently visited and it was a strange place strewn with the elaborate replicas of biblical towns, Egyptian temples, Tibetan monasteries, and more. It's very weird, but definitely worth the visit.

Think about any biblical or historical epic you've ever seen. There's probably a barren landscape of soft golden-red rocks, mud brick buildings, and thatched straw roofs.

From "Lawrence of Arabia," "Noah," and "The Passion of the Christ," to "Ben Hur," "Gladiator," and "Kingdom of Heaven," the landscape is the same. There's a reason for that.

They were all filmed near Ouarzazate, a desert city in southwestern Morocco, that is known as "the door of the desert."

Just outside Ouarzazate lies Atlas Film Studios, a 322,000-square-foot property that is considered to be one of, if not, the biggest film studio in the world.

Founded in 1983 by Moroccan entrepreneur Mohamed Belghmi for the filming of the 1985 action-adventure film "The Jewel of the Nile," Atlas has since become a premier destination to film big budget blockbuster films thanks to the area's dramatic landscapes, the relative cheap cost of production, and its promixity to the striking medieval ksar of Aït Benhaddou, also a popular filming location.

Most recently, Atlas Film Studios was used for filming scenes in "Game of Thrones" and Disney's upcoming live-action "Aladdin," starring Will Smith.

On a recent trip to Morocco, I decided to make a stop in Ouarzazate to check out Atlas Studios. It was about as strange a place as I've ever been to.

Here's what it was like:

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