The Mountain Castle

MOROCCO – The Kasbah of Tamdakht near Aït Ben Haddou // The Living Daylights (1987)

Hidden in the Atlas Mountains is a castle, made out of mud bricks and time. Those, who visit it, can travel from Morocco to Afghanistan within the blink of an eye – and some imagination.

Why Bond was here
James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is up to thwart the plans of arms dealer Brad Withaker (Joe Don Baker) and Russian renegade general Alexej Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). Both try to gain profits outdo the war in Afghanistan.
Bond teams up with Kamran Shan (Art Malik), who leads a local Mudjahidin resistance group in the fight against the Sowjets. Both forge their alliance in the Mudjahidins hideout, an old castle in the mountains.

Aït Ben Haddou

The Kasbah of Tamdakht as seen in the movie

How you gonna get there
The Afghan castle is in reality a fortress in the center of Morocco. It is the Kasbah of Tamdakht at the eastern edges of the High Atlas. The biggest town close by is Ouarzazate, the Moroccan film city dubbed “Ouallywood”.
A kasbah is an old Berber castle and town center in one. In the old trading times it worked as outposts, storage place, hostel and place for togetherness. Nowadays it depends on the Moroccan authorities, if a kasbah gets restored and turned into a tourist magnet – or if it withers away and gets forgotten. Unfortunately, in case of Tamdakht it is the second.

The best way to get to the Kasbah of Tamdakht is to get to Ouarzazate first. Several buses serve the city from Marrakesh, a ride is roughly three hours. You can also rent your own car, highway N9 leads from Marrakesh across the Atlas. 15 kilometers west from Ouarzazate a road at Tazentout leads north into the Ounila valley. Sings will post you to the famous tourist spot Aït Ben Haddou, which is a 15 minute drive away from the junction. From Aït Ben Haddou drive further north for some more minutes, Tamdakht is the second village after.

Aït Ben Haddou

Bond arrives at the courtyard of the Kasbah…

Kasbah Tamdakht

…that actually has no well. But still the same main gate.

Good to know
When you enter Tamdakht, the kasbah is to the left. You will see it from the road. The interior scenes had been filmed in the courtyard, the rides along the wall in the alley in front of the main gate. Additional filming took place in the small palmeraie, the oasis, below the kasbah. Inside the Kasbah is a small exhibition showing the filming of “Gladiator” at the same spot.

Many location blogs – and some local guides – claim, that the filming of The Living Daylights actually took place in Aït Ben Haddou. That is a hoax. Aït Ben Haddou is seen in films like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Jewel of the Nile”. It also is carefully renovated and a tourist hub. Thus, many shop owners will tell you, Bond was here as well, just to lure you into their shops.
But with a close look, you will see that the kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou doesn’t match the looks from the film. It is just a single castle building on a mountain top – nothing compared to the fortress at Tamdakht.
We asked many locals in Arabic to confirm the actual filming sites, both in Tamdakht and Aït Ben Haddou. They all told us, that the kasbahs had been mixed up. And told us another area nearby, that filled in for the scenes at the Khyber Pass and the finale with the destruction of the bridge. Those scenes had been filmed in Wadi Ounila, the valley, that stretches between south from Aït Ben Haddou to the village of Tikirt. Locals call the area Idriss Nifekhane. Just ask for that name, to get directions. But beware – for this one trip you’ll need a 4×4 as no road whatsoever leads to into the wadi.

We were really exited to find the right spot – and believed it to be Aït Ben Haddou at first. The place is beautiful,but also crowded with people. After circling the area for some hours without finding a matching view, a local helped us out and told us to look at Tamdakht. We drove up north … and found an empty yet beautiful kasbah all for ourselves.

© 2015 Huntingbond (1,3), © 1987 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2)