When you think of Morocco you may be forgiven for immediately thinking of the Sahara desert and Lawrence of Arabia and you wouldn’t be far off the mark if you travelled to Southern Morocco. The Ait Benhaddou is to be found 19 miles west of the southern city of Ouarazate, not far from the Saharan desert. Close your eyes and you can imagine the merchants travelling through the hot sand by camel to reach their destination and you wouldn’t be surprised to find that this indeed is what many African traders used this route for, to travel to the nearest city to sell their goods. It is a place brimming with beautiful sunsets, panoramic views and stunning architecture. Unsurprisingly, it was declared a world heritage site in 1987 by the UNESCO World Heritage site for its well preserved remains.
Ait Benhaddouis known as a ksar, which is a north African/Arabic term for castle. Ait Benhaddouis a fortified town or village that is similar to castles in Europe, but on a far grander scale. This particular ksar is one of the best preserved in the world, and a classic example of Saharan architecture. Outside are the high walls of a traditional fortress while inside are the closely built houses of red earth, tall angular towers and baffle gates or turnstiles, and laid out as one would expect of a traditional ksar, with courtyards, homes, and mosques surrounding a central marketplace, where the hustle and bustle of life would have been witnessed, and where families, merchants and traders would gather on a daily basis. The fortress also has twocemeteries, one Jewish and one Muslim. It no longer houses a thriving village within its wallsnow and is mainly used as a film location and a prime area for tourists. It’s most famously known for setting the scene in films such as Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 with Peter O’ Toole and Jesus of Nazareth in 1977, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), and Kingdom of Heaven (2005).It now resides majestically on the horizon as a tourist attraction while the villagersthat once lived here have been re housed a little further away from the ksar itself.
For fans of Moroccan architecture this offers a really good example of how Saharans constructed their houses, and is highly recommended site to visit. While you are here you can walk around the ksar at your own pace, but make sure you bring plenty of drinking water and a hat for protection against the sun.Why not enjoy the magnificent views later by climbing to the summit, so that you can take in the panoramic views of the village, and you don’t have to walk around the ksar, you can ride through on a camel if you are brave enough! Later perhaps you could take in the view as the sunsets on the horizon at the end of the day, a beautiful way to end your visit to Ait Ben Haddou.