About Citadel of Ait Ben-Haddou
The Citadel of Ait Ben-Haddou, just outside in the southern Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, is a stunning example of North African pise clay architecture and dates back hundreds of years.
History of Ait Ben-Haddou
It’s thought the site has been fortified since the 11th century, and although most of the buildings and the maze-like streets you see today are from the 17th century, Aït Ben-Haddou was an important trading post that linked ancient Sudan with Marrakech on one of several trans-Saharan trade routes.
Aït Ben-Haddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and comprises six kasbahs and almost fifty ksours (individual kasbahs), made from rammed earth, adobe, clay bricks and wood. It was a fortified village with houses – some tiny, some castle-like – community areas and associated buildings, a public square, a mosque, Muslim and Jewish cemeteries and a caravanserai. According to UNESCO ‘it is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques’. However, the use of natural materials means that buildings and structures need constant maintenance or risk being destroyed through exposure to the elements.
Ait Ben-Haddou today
There’s a sense that time stands still at Ait Ben-Haddou, and when the citadel is free of tourists, it feels like stepping back in time, into another world. It’s no surprise Ait Ben-Haddou is a popular filming location. Long before it became a star on the Game of Thrones (as Yunkai, the Yellow City), Ait Ben-Haddou was used in Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Lawrence of Arabia amongst many, many others!
Amazingly, a few families still live in the village and although conservations efforts are ongoing, a number of the red mud and straw buildings are slowly being reclaimed by the land from whence they came.
Access to the walled village is free (although some of the kasbahs charge a modest entry fee of ten dirhams – about 75p/$1 – to help with maintenance) and for the most amazing views, try and go at sunrise or sunset. The town of Ouarzazate (pronounced ‘war-za-zat’) is almost permanently full of tourists and location researchers so hotels, restaurants and cafés are plentiful and of a high quality.
Getting to Ait Ben-Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou is about 30km north west of Ouarzazate. Head west on the N9 and take the P1506 at Tazentout. If you don’t have your own transport, organised tours leave from Ouarzazate pretty regularly. It’s possible to day trips here from Marrakech, but they’re not for the faint-hearted given it’s a 4 hour drive each way.
A country with traditions from sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the wider Middle East woven into its cultural fabric, Morocco is host to a number of historic sites which make for a fantastic visit.