We continued on from Atlas Studios to the town of Ait Ben Haddou, where we will stay for two nights. After a quick bite to eat, we wandered down from our kasbah, across the bridge to the Ksar. We wandered the bottom street from one end to the other, while I got a few photos. By this stage the kids weren’t particularly interested and decided to go back to the hotel and we decided we really wanted a guide to tell us more about this famous place.
After asking in a hotel, they organised for Mohammed to take us on an hour long tour. Mohammed is a fabulous guide, who actually spent some of his youth living in Ait Ben Haddou, until his family were given the opportunity to move to new living quarters across the river, on the new side of Ait Ben Haddou. As Mohammed explained, back when they moved, the ksar had no electricity, toilets or water, so it was a big improvement of living to move.
You may wonder why its called the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou and not a kasbah. Apparently a Ksar is more like a fortified village, whereas a Kasbah is generally a large home of a wealthy family and has a tower on each corner of it. A kasbah is also built with defensive purposes, no windows down low, towers to lookout for attacking Berber tribes and stairs which enable the home owner to be able to sword fight an incoming enemy.
Some of the buildings in the Ksar
Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou dates back to the 12th century and the original construction was at the top of the hill, now only one storage are exists up there. The Ksar has an interesting population, although originally settled by the Berbers, after WW2 a number of Jewish families relocated there, although many left in the early 1960s. Later the Arab population also moved into the area. Today only 8 families still live in the Ksar, but that is changing. When UNESCO named it a world heritage site it added the bridge which allowed the Berber people access in the raining season to leave the Ksar. UNESCO is also renovating some of the homes, but it is a very slow process and takes about 4 years to complete a house and they generally do 4 – 5 houses every 5 years.
The views are amazing overlooking the river. If you look closely you can even see the sand storm over the river.
Ait Ben Haddou has been used for over 40 films, documentaries and TV series, like Gladiator and Game of Thrones. The only condition of using the place, is that it has to be restored to its original condition when finished. So while they may spend months building a set, once they have finished filming its torn down in a matter of weeks.
We wandered through some homes that are now derelict and may have the opportunity to be renovated in the future, before heading to the top of the Ksar. There is only one building remaining at the top now, but before each family would have had a building up there. The purpose of the building was store your provisions. When the caravan route came through, each family took turns in standing guard over the buildings holding the provisions. Andrew stayed below talking to Mohammed. while I climbed to the top. When I reached the last step to the top the wind actually nearly blew me off, it was so strong. I had to crouch down and creep to hide behind the building, it was actually a little scary. The wind was so strong I couldn’t hold the camera still to get a photo, so I had to wait until I got back down.
Mohammed took us to look inside his families home. Although his house has a beautiful view with breezes, it also has cracks in many of the walls and sinking floors and so is unsafe to live in. His family is hoping that UNESCO will renovate their home in the next couple of years and then Mohammed or one of his brothers would move back there. In Berber society the extended family usually live in the same house.
The above photos are of Mohammed’s family home and the photo below is of the house next door which has already been renovated.
Mohammed took us inside a Berber home and explained that with the older generation, the girls did not receive an education and so their life revolved around the home and they have developed great skill with making woolen rugs. Many of the homes also keep animals like goats and chickens in mud fenced pens. The larger kasbahs would have kept their animals in the ground floor and would live in the floors above. Not too sure about the smell?
We wandered through the streets with shops either side, before reaching the riverbank and taking a last few pictures, before saying goodbye to Mohammed.
We were a little tangined out and decided we would have something more western for a change. The kids went for Moroccan tacos and we decided on pizzas. While waiting, I popped back to the riverbank as the sun was setting to get one last picture, well at least for today.
Tourist Information for Ait Ben Haddou
Entrance into Ait Ben Haddou is free, although we are told that there are some hustlers that will try to charge you 10 DH entrance. We organised 120 DH for our guide for our tour as it went for nearly two hours we ended up giving him 150 DH, which we felt was a fair price. Early morning or later in the afternoon the site has far less tourists as the day trippers from Marrakesh or those passing through to Merzouga haven’t arrived yet.