Explore Ait Benhaddou
Beyond the Sahara Desert and at the base of the Atlas Mountains lies an ancient fortified village made of red mud clay. The castle shaped outline of buildings emerges from the ground in a mirage-like wonder, its earthen colours blending into the deep orange tones of the surrounding hills. Located at the edge of Oued Ounilla, Ait Benhaddou stands tall, surviving the test of time and inviting visitors to explore its mysterious kasbahs and winding alleyways.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
This desert fortress is a glimpse into the past. Deemed a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987, the ancient architecture has been lovingly preserved. The walls are routinely reinforced with red mud clay and straw to keep the structures in their original form. Measuring about 1300 square meters, Ait Benhaddou is built into the side of a large hill, its cluster of buildings tapering and twisting upwards, coming together at the tallest central peak, reaching for the sky.
Origins of Ait Benhaddou
Legend places the origin of Ait Benhaddou in the 10th century, when it started as a single traditional kasbah built by a man named Ben Haddou. He lived there with his family, and, as his seven sons began families of their own, together they built more houses surrounding the original kasbah. As more families built more unique homes, Ait Benhaddou continuously grew over generations, until it was eventually surrounded by fortified walls to protect it from incoming raids. Today, the buildings are mostly abandoned and quiet, with peaceful scents of clay and straw filling the air as visitors explore the empty walkways and buildings.
Meet Local Berber Families as You Explore Ait Benhaddou
Today, only a few local families remain. These families take pride in their minimalist living conditions, living the Berber lifestyle and creating beautiful homes on this historic land. They are very welcoming to the visitors who explore Ait Benhaddou, sometimes inviting lucky guests to have a traditional Moroccan mint tea in their home. Have a seat at their table and embrace the hospitality as you meet parents, children, and grandparents. Enjoy the break from the sun as the breeze flows in from open windows, cooling the mint-scented steam from your cup of tea. Take a humble moment to be thankful for this welcome into the Berber community.
Ancient Trading Post
Ait Benhaddou was once used as a commercial trading post for those crossing between Sahara and Marrakech. It is one of many Ksars perfectly situated along the Trans-Saharan trade route. Standing among the quiet buildings today, one can only imagine the hustle and bustle of ancient caravans of traders with camels, carrying wealthy loads of gold, salt, and cloth.
Learn the Art of Rug Making as you Explore Ait Benhaddou
While the ancient city no longer sees trading caravans, visitors can still find local Moroccan goods for sale. Women of the Berber families take pride in weaving traditional rugs. Using large wooden looms and colourful fabrics, these women oversee every detail, handweaving to ensure absolute quality. The rugs are a form of art and incorporate unique dyes and colours, each pattern chosen with purpose and care. Visitors who purchase one of these beautiful rugs invite a piece of Berber culture to live and flow through their home.
Ait Benhaddou in Film
The surreal ancient structures of Ait Benhaddou have caught the eye of artists, filmmakers, and photographers from all over the world. Notably featured in Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones, the mysterious beauty of the Ksar has been the backdrop of protagonists, heroes, and queens. The red mud brick colour of the iconic towers and kasbahs provide the grand desert atmosphere needed to make these stories come alive.
Explore Ait Benhaddou at Sunset
As the desert sun begins to set on the ancient Ksar of Ait Benhaddou, the colour of the buildings change from earthen orange to fiery red. Stand at the top of one of the towers to get the best view of the sky as it turns shades of pink and purple. Take a moment to embrace the evening breeze, the red earth bricks still emanating heat as the sky begins to darken, and allow yourself to feel the history of Ait Benhaddou.
Hire a Guide to Explore Ait Benhaddou
To ensure these deep connections and experiences as you explore Ait Benhaddou, hiring a guide is highly recommended. Guides from Maroc Unique Voyages have experience with the Berber community and can help translate the local language and customs. These knowledgeable guides can set up invites for traditional mint tea, and can arrange visits to the rug making cooperative. Guides will give you an in-depth history of the buildings and kasbahs, and can also provide insider tips on where to find the best photography spots, where to buy the best local jewellery and crafts, and where to get the best views for sunset.