Aït Benhaddou, Morocco: The Complete Guide

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Explore This Amazing Guide about Aït Benhaddou in Morocco!

Head southeast from Marrakech through winding mountain passes and arid desert landscapes, and in less than four hours you'll reach the famous fortified village of Aït Benhaddou. Known to the native Berbers of the region as a ksar, the village is located on the ancient caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara desert. It is known for the fabulous clay architecture that makes it one of the most photogenic and historically fascinating places in Morocco. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see destination for moviegoers.

The Story of Aït Benhaddou

Although the oldest building in Aït Benhaddou dates from the 17th century, the site has been fortified since the Almoravids, who ruled Morocco during the 11th century. The current structures are probably a replica of previous buildings, making the ksar one of the best examples of adobe architecture in the country. It is made entirely of clay, mixed with straw, clay bricks, and wood. While inexpensive and aesthetically pleasing, this style of construction requires constant maintenance to withstand the annual rains and desert winds.

It is common to the ksars and kasbahs throughout this region of Morocco and allows the village to blend in perfectly with the arid surroundings. Like the desert itself, it is painted in hues of beige and beige during the heat of the day and then painted pink and ocher for the soft light of sunrise and sunset. Aït Benhaddou grew as a landmark for travelers transporting salt, spices, gold, and slaves along the main trans-Saharan trade route through the Tizi n'Tichka pass to the Imperial City of Marrakech.

The Ksar Today

Today, the historic village of Aït Benhaddou is still inhabited, but only by a few remaining Berber families (between five and ten of them, depending on who you ask). As the ksar's importance diminished with the disappearance of the trans-Saharan caravans, its maintenance was neglected and it began to suffer at the hands of the harsh desert climate. Most of its inhabitants have moved to more modern and easy-to-care-for homes on the opposite bank of the Ounila River, where they continue to live, depending on tourism and agriculture for their income.

Despite its almost total abandonment, Aït Benhaddou has remained an important site for Moroccan culture and tourism and was saved from falling into ruins by being considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Since then it has been carefully restored using traditional materials, methods and constructions. .To preserve its architectural integrity. Much of the ksar's relative integrity is also due to its popularity as a filming location. It has appeared as a backdrop for many international films and series, such as "The Mummy", "Gladiator", "The Kingdom of Heaven", "The Prince of Persia" and "The War of Thrones" (where it served as the city Yunkai's slave).

Top Things to See

The journey to get to Aït Ben Haddou is impressive. Visitors must use steps to cross the modern city on the Ounila River, with its thickets of date palms and palm trees. On the opposite bank, the historic ksar rises majestically from the hillside, its buildings within its defensive wall and shrouded in mystery. The battlements are dotted with corner towers, while the interior buildings range from modest private residences to public facilities, including a mosque, a kasbah, a barn, a public square, and the stables where camels and donkeys used to sleep. .

Perhaps most interesting is the caravanserai, a kind of roadside inn where ancient traders would have fed while exchanging information along with stories of their travels across the Sahara. Many of Aït Benhaddou's buildings are adorned on their upper levels with intricate geometric reliefs. Keep an eye out for cemeteries (one for Muslims, one for Jews) and marked grain threshing areas beyond the village walls. You'll explore the town's winding lanes and stairs on foot, stopping whenever you need to take in views of the river and the desert landscape from the top of the battlements.

Along the way, you will likely meet some of the ksar's residents, who make a living selling souvenir (think traditional Berber fabrics and jewelry) or playing music for tourists. If you're lucky, you might even be invited to one of their mud houses for a cup of mint tea. If you have time, consider combining your visit to Aït Ben Haddou with a trip to another fortified ksar known as Tamdaght. Located just over five kilometers north of Aït Ben Haddou, this village was home to the family of Thami El Glaoui, Lord of the Atlas, and Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956. It has not been as extensively restored and is disintegrating slowly in the desert.

How to Visit

Aït Ben Haddou is located 112 miles southeast of Marrakech and 29 miles northwest of Ouarzazate. The latter is a well-known gateway to the Sahara Desert, known as the Hollywood of North Africa, due to its close ties to the film industry. While there is nothing stopping you from taking an independent tour, many people visit Aït Ben Haddou on a guided day trip from Marrakech. Options include private tours, tours that combine the trip with a visit to Ouarzazate, and multi-day tours that take you deep into the Sahara desert. Viator is a good starting point if you want to explore the different options available.

Aït Benhaddou is a destination all year round. For the best weather, meaning long, sunny days that aren't too sweltering, consider visiting in spring (March to May) or fall (September to November).

Where to Stay

If you want to stay longer in the area, there are many atmospheric inns and riads to choose from, both in Aït Benhaddou and in nearby Tamdaght. Top picks in Aït Ben Haddou include Kasbah Tebi and Riad Caravane. The first stands out for its location within the historic ksar and for being owned and managed by the same family for more than 400 years. It specializes in authentic Moroccan cuisine and cooking classes and is beautifully decorated with traditional Berber furniture. The Riad Caravane offers eight rooms and suites, terraces with beautiful views of Aït Benhaddou, a garden patio and a heated swimming pool.

In Tamdaght, the best accommodation option is Kasbah Ellouze. Set amongst gardens filled with almond, olive, fig and pomegranate trees, it features traditional Berber architecture and hospitality, as well as a Moroccan restaurant and an attractive swimming pool.

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Source: Expoza Travel

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