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Ait Benhaddou: A Must-Visit Destination for Any Morocco Traveler

Jul 4

Are you an avid traveller looking for unique destinations to explore? If so, listen up: Ait Benhaddou should be at the top of your list! This magnificent fortified village, located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, has captured the hearts of visitors for centuries.

With its striking red mud brick buildings set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains, it's no wonder why Ait Benhaddou has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But there's more to this destination than its stunning beauty: it's also home to a rich history and culture that will transport you back in time.

So pack your bags, grab your camera, and prepare for an incredible journey to Ait Benhaddou—a must-visit destination for any Morocco traveller!




Explanation of Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou is a small town in southeast Morocco, built around 1000 years ago. It was an important stop on the caravan route in ancient times and is now one of Morocco's most visited tourist destinations.

What sets Ait Benhaddou apart is its unique architecture and incredible atmosphere. The town's buildings are made of rammed earth, straw, clay bricks, and wood, which blend seamlessly with the arid surroundings. Ait Benhaddou is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been used as a filming location for many international movies, including Game of Thrones, Aladdin, The Mummy, and Gladiator.

Visitors to Ait Benhaddou can explore the town's winding alleyways, staircases, and public buildings, including a mosque, the kasbah, and a granary. They can also admire the views of the river and the barren desert landscape from the battlements.

A visit to Ait Benhaddou is well worth the effort and should be included on any traveller's itinerary to Morocco. [1][2]



Why it is a must-visit destination for Morocco travellers

Ait Benhaddou is a must-visit destination for any traveller to Morocco. This beautiful fortified village has a rich history, cultural significance, and architectural importance that make it a unique and unforgettable place to visit.

The town was strategically located along the ancient caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. Its daily life and architecture reflect a mix of Berber, Arabic, and Saharan influences. Its fame peaked in the 20th century when it was used as a location for many Hollywood movies.

Ait Benhaddou offers visitors a chance to learn about the vibrant Berber community, known for its hospitality and traditional crafts such as pottery, weaving, and embroidery. The town is also located near the Atlas Mountains, which offer breathtaking scenery and hiking opportunities.

It is easily accessible by road and offers a range of accommodations, from budget-friendly options to luxurious hotels. Overall, Ait Benhaddou is a unique destination that offers visitors a chance to experience the beauty and hospitality of Berber culture and the stunning landscape of southern Morocco. [3][4]



History of Ait Benhaddou

The history of Ait Benhaddou is as fascinating as the village itself. It is said that constructing the ksar on a hill near a river was a strategic choice for security reasons. The river and surrounding mountains created a natural fortress around the oasis. The closeness to the river also provided benefits for agriculture and economic influence.

Built ten centuries ago, the ksar was home to a community of nearly 98 families until the 1940s. Nowadays, only five families still reside in Kasbah Ait Benhaddou. The ksar is made of red clay bricks and covers around 1,300 square metres, with long, narrow alleyways tangled up in a unique geometric shape.

The architecture of Ait Benhaddou is not only historically significant but culturally important as well. It allowed the settlement to blend seamlessly with the arid environment, rendering the buildings in tan and beige hues during the day's heat and painted with rose and ochre by the soft light of dawn and dusk.

In 1987, UNESCO designated Ait Benhaddou ksar as a World Heritage Site, a well-deserved recognition for the village's unique beauty and architectural importance. [5][6]



Cultural significance

Ait Benhaddou is a historic fortified village in Morocco with significant cultural importance. It is a symbol of Moroccan Berber culture and heritage and boasts a rich history that spans centuries.

The town is home to a vibrant Berber community that has lived there for generations. Visitors to the site can learn about their culture and traditions by staying in one of the many traditional mud-brick guesthouses or by exploring the handicrafts and cuisine of the region. The Berbers are known for their hospitality and warmth, visiting Ait Benhaddou an unforgettable experience.

The city's architecture reflects different cultural influences from the tribes and families who ruled the town over the centuries. The stunning earthen buildings and geometric motifs adorn the structures are a testament to the skilled craftsmanship of the region.

The town's fame peaked during the 20th century when it was used as a location for many Hollywood movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones. Today, Ait Benhaddou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its cultural and architectural significance, and a must-visit destination for anyone travelling to Morocco. [7][8]



Architectural Importance

Ait Benhaddou is not only historically and culturally significant, but it is also architecturally important. The mud-brick and earth architecture used in constructing this fortified village is unique and impressive. The buildings are grouped within a defensive wall that includes corner towers and a gate. The village has dwellings of various sizes, from modest houses to tall structures with towers. Some of the buildings are decorated with geometric motifs in their upper parts. The village also has several public or community buildings, such as a mosque, a mullah (Jewish quarter), a kasbah (castle-like fortification), and the tombs of Sidi Ali or Amer. At the top of the hill overlooking the ksar are the remains of a large fortified granary.

The structures of Ait Benhaddou and other kasbahs and ksour throughout this region of Morocco typically used a mixture of earth and straw, which was relatively permeable and easily eroded by rain over time. As a result, villages of this type can begin to crumble only a few decades after being abandoned.

Ait Benhaddou has been significantly restored in modern times, thanks partly to its use as a Hollywood filming location and its inscription on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1987. UNESCO reports that the Ksar has preserved its architectural authenticity through configuration and materials by using traditional construction materials and techniques and largely avoiding new concrete constructions. A local committee is in charge of monitoring and managing the site.

A visit to Ait Benhaddou provides a glimpse into the past and an appreciation of the unique architectural heritage of this part of Morocco. [9][10]



Location and Directions to Ait Benhaddou

Geographical location

Ait Benhaddou is a fortified village in the Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco. Its location has become a melting pot of diverse cultures, including Arab, African, Andalusian, Amazigh, and Mediterranean influences. The ancient village is nestled in a valley close to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, near Ouarzazate, a popular film-making location. It sits on a hill overlooking a river valley, offering a beautiful panoramic view of the majestic landscape.

Ait Benhaddou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, highlighting its historical and cultural significance. Despite its remote location, it is easily accessible by road, with several tour companies offering services to visitors. There are various routes to follow when visiting Ait Benhaddou, with the most popular being walking tours that allow visitors to explore the site's intricate architecture and breathtaking landscapes.

Whether you're a history buff or an adventurer, Ait Benhaddou has something for everyone. Its geographical location, rich cultural heritage, and stunning attractions make it a must-visit destination for any Morocco traveller. [11][12]




Accessibility is always a key factor when planning a trip, and Ait Benhaddou is no exception. Located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, it is conveniently situated for travellers touring the country. It is a three-hour drive from Marrakech, making it a perfect stopover for those who are on their way to the Todgha Gorge or Ouarzazate, which is known for its film studios.

Visitors who wish to avoid the worst heat of the day and day-trippers can stay overnight in Ait Benhaddou, which allows them to explore the old city early in the morning or evening without the crowds.

As for transportation, most navigators recommend turning off the main road onto an anonymous gravel road, but this is not the right road. Visitors must stay on the asphalt road until they reach the place where they can start their short walk to the ksar. Visitors can park their cars at the side of the road or stop to buy something at a market and ask if they can leave their cars in front of the shop. The locals are friendly and accommodating and are happy to help visitors find their way around their beloved Ait Benhaddou. [13][14]


Routes to follow when visiting Ait Benhaddou

When planning a visit to Ait Benhaddou, it is essential to know the routes to follow to make the most of your trip.

If you are from Marrakech, the recommended route is to take a Supratours or CTM coach bus to Ouarzazate. From Ouarzazate, you can take a taxi to Ait Benhaddou. The journey is long, so making a few pit stops and exploring other beautiful places en route is ideal.

When using a satnav, stay on the main asphalt road. After about 5-6 kilometres, turn left at the roundabout to reach Ait Benhaddou. Many buses and minivans operated by local agencies can take you to Ait Benhaddou. You can leave your car on the side of the road or ask to leave it in front of a shop or market.

To access the walled city, head in the direction of the riverbed after parking your car. You can cross the bridge or take any road that leads to the riverbed, where you will find the walls. The best way to explore the city is on foot. Take in the unique architecture of the kasbah and wander through the narrow alleyways. Don't forget to climb to the top of the kasbah to enjoy stunning views of the village and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains nearby. [15][16]


Things to See and Do in Ait Benhaddou

Visiting the Ksar

A visit to Ait Benhaddou would not be complete without exploring the ksar, a fortified village that has stood for over a century. The mud-brick buildings, narrow streets, and alleyways offer visitors a glimpse into the past.

You will have the opportunity to explore the old town, which includes a mosque, several kasbahs, and traditional Moroccan houses. The intricate earthen architecture that has remained untouched for centuries is simply awe-inspiring.

Wander around the small streets and alleyways and take in the charming atmosphere. As you make your way up, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the vast barren landscapes of the Sahara. Don't forget to hike up to the Agadir and enjoy the view of the Atlas Mountains too.

While at the ksar, you can also buy souvenirs from the streets' numerous shops. After a day filled with exploration, you can sit back and enjoy a lovely meal on the other side of the river, with a view of the old ksar, perhaps in one of the many restaurants there.

A visit to Ait Benhaddou is worthwhile, and the ksar is a must-see destination for any Morocco traveller. [17][18]



Walking Tours

Plenty of walking tours are available for those interested in a more immersive experience of Ait Benhaddou. These tours offer the opportunity to explore Ksar and its surrounding areas with a knowledgeable guide who can provide insights into the history and culture of the region.

Walking tours typically include visiting the top of the Ksar, where visitors can take panoramic views of the desert landscape and the Atlas Mountains. Along the way, walkers will pass through the narrow, winding streets of the fortified village and see the many traditional buildings that still stand today. Visitors can also explore some old houses and museums within the Ksar, offering a glimpse into life in earlier times.

Along with the historical significance, walking tours also allow visitors to get up close and personal with the unique architecture of Ait Benhaddou. With the help of a guide, visitors can learn about the construction of the red-brown townhouses and their sometimes-nested design.

Overall, a walking tour is an excellent way to experience Ait Benhaddou's cultural and architectural significance while taking in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. [19][20]



Final thoughts on the significance of Ait Benhaddou in Moroccan culture and tourism.

There is no denying that Ait Benhaddou is a must-visit destination for any traveller to Morocco. The ksar is a magnificent example of southern Moroccan architecture, with its collective grouping of dwellings and defensive walls reinforced by corner towers. Moreover, Ait Benhaddou has an extensive history, cultural significance, and architectural importance, reflecting a blend of various tribes and families. It is also located near the Atlas Mountains, which provide breathtaking scenery and hiking opportunities. Visitors can also explore the Ouarzazate province, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and where many blockbuster Hollywood movies were filmed. Additionally, Ait Benhaddou is home to a vibrant Berber community known for their hospitality. Visitors can experience their colourful textiles, delicious Moroccan cuisine, and handmade crafts. With many budget, mid-range, and luxury accommodations available, visitors can easily plan their stay and enjoy the beauty and hospitality of Berber culture. So, if you are seeking immersive cultural experiences, stunning architecture, and natural scenery, Ait Benhaddou is the perfect destination. [22]