Ait Ben Haddou, Unesco Heritage site and architectural gem of Morocco
The landscape of Southern Morocco is dotted with beautiful Kasbah and Ksar, small fortified villages where time seems to have stopped. The most famous Ksar of the whole country is the charming Ait Ben Haddou, a real jewel of southern Morocco traditional architecture, entirely made of mud and clay and UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.
Located along the old trade route that caravans travelled through the Sahara desert from Sudan to Marrakech, and surrounded by dense vegetation of palmiers and overlooking arid mountains, Ait Ben Haddou was built around the 17th century. Its location was a strategic choice: first, for security reasons as the area is naturally fortified, making entering and leaving the palace possible only through two gates; second, for economic reasons as agriculture was possible thanks to the nearby river.
Ait Ben Haddou is well preserved and still boasts beautiful crenellated towers decorated with blind arches and geometrical drawings in relief, small mud houses, a mosque, a public square, barns and two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish). Each place is connected to the other through many small and very characteristic streets, tangled in a unique geometric shape, where it is possible to take a stroll to reach the high rocky hill that dominates the Ksar where it stands a sizeable fortified Granary and from where you can enjoy a fantastic view.
There are two main entrances into the Ksar. The first one can be reached by a new bridge, whereas the second can be reached by crossing the river using the stepping stones (in the dry season the river is completely dry). It takes 1 hour to enjoy the Ksar and complete the visit.
We suggest crossing the river to enjoy a beautiful view of the Ksar and its stunning mud houses. Get off in front of the Riad Maktoub, cross the street and walk along the dirt alley until you reach the river where you’ll find the stepping stones. Before entering the water, you can also stop by and sip a tasty mint tea at the small Cafè La Terrazza enjoying the view on the Ksar.
It is said that more than 90 families were living in the Ksar of Ait Benhaddou until the 1940s. Nowadays, only five families are still living inside the ancient village, and one of them has turned her house into a traditional coffee shop, welcoming tourists and giving them an overview of the ancient inhabitant lifestyle.
Ait Ben Haddou is also mainly famous among Hollywood producers as it makes a timeless vision that is difficult to find elsewhere. It has been featured in many films including the Gladiator (in particular the scene in which Russell Crowe is sold into slavery), Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Prince of Persia and in parts of the serial Tv Game of Thrones.
Need to Know
1) How to get there
It’s only 30 minutes drive from Ouarzazate so you can arrange the trip haggling with a local taxi or take the bus to Marrakech. The coach doesn’t stop in Ait Ben Haddou, but you have to get off at Tabouhrate (9 km away), next to the crossing to the Ksar and take a taxi here or ask for a lift. You can get there from Marrakech as well (184 km – 4 hours drive) catching the bus to Ouarzazate and get off at Tabouhrate and take a taxi. Alternatively, you can arrange a guided tour from Marrakech or Ouarzazate through the local tour agencies or the web Platforms as Getyourguide or Viator.
We visited Ait Ben Haddou on our way from Ouarzazate to Marrakech.
2) Where to sleep and eat
If you decide to have an overnight stay in the town, it offers a good range of accommodations (usually the accommodations provide the half board). When we visited the Ksar for the first time, we slept and ate at Auberge Bagdad Cafè.