Ait Ben Haddou Tourist Attractions

Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah Tourist Attractions - Zayan Travel

Located in the foothills of the southern slopes of the High Atlas, Ait Benhaddou is the most popular ighrem in the Ounila Valley. This city is nestled between the great Sahara and Marrakech, making it the center of two most sought-for Moroccan tourist destinations.

Located in the foothills of the southern slopes of the High Atlas, Ait Benhaddou is the most popular ighrem in the Ounila Valley. This city is nestled between the great Sahara and Marrakech, making it the center of two most sought-for Moroccan tourist destinations.

Once a home to the pasha of Marrakech and the chief of the Berber Glaoua tribe, the city fell in ruins after his death in 1957. However, the traces of glory and hints of royalty can still be found in the village.

Ait Benhaddou was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ait Benhaddou is an attractive site where you can explore the southern Moroccan architecture. While the population of the city quickly dwindles, you will still find four families living in the ancient village.

They mark as a gateway to the authentic century-old tradition and lifestyle of Morocco. Inside the walls of this fortified city, there are Kasbahs that showcase exemplary Moroccan earthen clay architecture. These old walls are reinforced by angled colorful towers and turnstiles.

Spotted at the banks of the river Oued Ounila, the city is divided into two parts, one on each side of the river. The modern side is filled with tourist shops and parking spaces, while on the other side of the river is ksar – the walled city.

A Mine of Ancient Architecture and Gateway to Sub-Saharan Civilization

According to the Moroccan folklores, the Ksar was founded in 757 A.D. by Ben-Haddou, after whom the place is named. His tomb is said to lie somewhere behind the city.

The tourists that have a keen interest in the variety of architecture or history of different places will surely be thrilled in ksar. Its pre-Saharan construction techniques date back to the 17th century era. Although so old, the architectural style is well-preserved. You will observe the earthen construction of this ksar is perfectly in harmony with the natural climatic conditions and social environment of the city.

There are houses in the ksar that resemble small, urban castles with their own high towers and motif decorations. The ziggurat designs are usually in black clay, illustrating the traditional earthen habitat, representing the culture of southern Morocco. In addition to these mini castles, the city is an amalgamation of community and modest houses. The community area of ksar includes a mosque, grain threshing area, a Muslim and a Jewish cemetery, a public square, a caravanserai, and loft on the top of the village. You can also travel to the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer.

Contrary to the other ksar in the region, Ait Benhaddou has preserved its architectural authenticity and integrity with regards to formation and materials.

Settled along the former caravan route, Ait Benhaddou was one of significant commercial site of kingdom of Morocco. It was one of the countries of the Saharan Africa trade that linked to Marrakech.

This Mud Brick city is a popular destination among directors and producers around the world. Several famous movies, mostly as a replacement for Jerusalem. Movie buffs will recognize it from The Mummy (1999), Oedipus Rex (1967), Prince of Persia (2010), and Jewel of the Nile, which were all shot on the ancient grounds and dramatic edifices of this city.

City Highlights

Ait Benhaddou is home to some of the best-preserved and spectacular Kasbahs that were built to protect against desert raids. These fortified cities now serve as fascinating tourist spots for intrepid globetrotter. The highlight of the city is its Telouet Kasbah, the once lavish home of Thami el Glaoui, ‘the Lord of the Atlas’. The magnificence of Mausoleum of Benhaddou and hilltop Granary will give you an elaborate glimpse of the city’s glorious past.

The sites and sets where numerous movies have been shot are also open for the tourists. Most recently, the arid and desert terrains of Ait Benhaddou have been the shooting location of HBO’s fantasy Game of Thrones. If you are a movie buff, you would not want to miss exploring the Atlas Film Studio and adjacent movie museum, where many other famous movies were shot including the Gladiator.

While the rest of the region is restored for preservation, there is a less retouched Kasbah that seems frozen in time with their striking resemblance to the original 11th century settlement. Located 6 km north from Ait Benhaddou, along the tarmac, the Tamdaght Kasbah is nestled. It is a crumbling fortification topped by the nests of stork bird.

While arriving at Ait Benhaddou

On your way to the ighrem, you will take the new road over the Tizi n’Tichka Pass, which was built by the French. This road is no less than a genius piece of engineering. The route meanders its way up to 2260 meters from Marrakech before it finally zigzags to the pre-Sahara flatlands. Stunning and refreshing view of olive groves and date palms growing along the riverbank of river Oued Ounila will welcome you into this walled city. The river only runs water in winter season and early spring.

If you arrive in the city during the sunset or sunrise hours, you will witness a captivating view of the city changing its colors and glowing under the light of glistening rays of the sun.

Life in the Walled City

While the ksar is turning into relics, and its glorious history is now more of a lore, life still goes on inside the fortified walls of the city. People live in Kasbahs and ksours. There are six Kasbahs and around 50 smaller ksours in the ksar. Kasbahs allow visitors for a modest amount to help the maintenance costs. The dark rooms and tiny windows may seem incongruous against the wealthy past of the city, but when compared to other civilizations 4 centuries ago, they will surprise you. Families still follow the traditional way of living, which is, living with extended families.

Final Word

Ait Benhaddou might not be the traditional adventure of outdoor sports or luxurious resorts but it serves as a gateway into the splendid history of sub-Saharan civilization and architectural genius of the people in the era. Spectacular landscapes are refreshing while the dramatic settings in the desert will take you back in time.

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