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Ait Benhaddou: Filmed kasbah in Morocco

Fri, Jun 24, 2011

Northern Africa

On this planet, there is an ancient village where everybody or each family used to stay in the fortified houses meaning kasbahs. This is Ait Benhaddou that is a World Heritage site nestled at a distance of 30 km from Ouarzazate. Previously housing some 200 to 300 families today, it is a home of only 10 families. Set atop a hill, Ait Benhaddou refers to a set of kasbahs each of which soaring up to 10 m in air and forming a small village that is also known as ‘ksar’. The kasbahs are of the 16th century, but are made in such a way that together they form a scenic village. And it is precisely because of this that the some of the scenes of the movies like Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile, Jesus of Nazareth acting as the substitute of Jerusalem, The Mummy, and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed here. So, now you are familiar with the place, right?

The Ksar holds several small and big private houses, towers, mosque, and a market place all made using the clay brick as well as moulded mud among which the towers and the walls boast the decorative motifs. You can explore it all by strolling via the current small hamlet whose entrance on the road still has the gash of the airplane shown in the Jewel of Nile followed by stone stepping on the knee-deep river. To be at the village, amble towards the stony Ounil River across which the frenzied clutter of red-ochre fortresses appear to tip out of the rocky projections. Stroll via the kasbahs, climb atop the hill not only for the breathtaking vista but also for the agadir meaning a fortified granary from where the views are catchier, or discover the interior of a kasbah. Ait Benhaddou looks most mesmerizing during the hours prior to the sunset when the honey-colored kasbahs’ red walls are illuminated by the Saharan sun.

The scenic village soars from the sun-lit sand like an Arabian Night palace at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. It is rightly located in the Dades Valley that is also dubbed as the ‘The Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs’. This has been the shooting site of more than 20 movies. The hilltop site is named so after Caliph Benhaddou who was an imperial agent of Marrakech and was prepared by the warlords who ruled over the High Atlas. The entire area holds historic importance in the sense that it belonged to the profitable trans-Saharan trade path some 100 years ago. But today, it has become one of the effectual attractions for those travelers who do not want to enter Sahara for its remoteness, but are pulled by these kasbahs that radiate unique tranquility.

Ascend the steeply soaring labyrinth of passageways on which you will find some djellaba-dressed young Berbers who act guides for some dirhams. In one of the houses, you can see a living space with mats as well as a bedroom whose walls show the images of the hung Moroccan king next to the Cinema Sahara poster of the actors of Titanic. Ascend the rutted, thin stairs that take one up to towered rooftops to enjoy the clear sunlight photos and the vistas of the fields going on for miles until the desert. At night, Ait Benhaddou shines because of the millions of shining stars.

In this small village, you can easily find options of eating. In the modern zone of the town, Hotel la Baraka offers a good restaurant. High quality of food is also served at the La Fibule D’Or ait ben haddou’s panoramic terrace. I would recommend to stay here for a one night so that you can enjoy both the sunrise and sunset vistas.

  • Auberge La Goulade: Reasonable, good food, and friendly staff
  • Hotel Restaurant La Rose Du Sable: Great food, good rooms, and cleanliness
  • Riad Ksar Ighnda, Douar As Falou: In the Atlas Mountains

  • La Fibule d’Or Ait Benhaddou: For luxury stay at 200 dh per/person per night

Ait Benhaddou is accessible from Ouarzazate via a 20-minute drive (south of Marrakech). From Marrakech, it will take 4 hours to drive.


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