Recognized as a UNESCO site, the Ksar Aït Benhaddou in Ouarzazate is one of the most extraordinary Kasbahs in Morocco. This giant fortification, which is made up of six kasbahs and nearly fifty ksours (individual kasbahs), is a great example of pisé clay architecture. Ait Benhaddou Kasbah and the Ouarzazate region should be near the top of your bucket list when in Morocco!
Aït Benhaddou sits amidst a valley near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, just thirty-two miles from Ouarzazate, the film capital of Morocco. Ouarzazate first came into the international spotlight with the Hollywood film Lawrence of Arabia; Aït Benhaddou made a feature appearance in this film. Orson Welles used it as a location for Sodome and Gomorrah; and for Jesus of Nazareth the whole lower part of the village was rebuilt. Historically, long before the days of film, traders carrying spices, slaves, and gold on the Sahara Trade Route passed by Aït Benhaddou and its Ksours on their way to Timbuktu or the Western Sahara. Today, the place is known as something of a tourist goldmine.
The village of Aït Benhaddou sits on top of a hill and protects a series of Kasbahs and Ksour earth houses. Inside, the Aït Benhaddou village is decorated with a labyrinth like series of sandstone colored towers and walls. To one side of the village, a riverbed of the Mellah (old Jewish quarters) as well as several palm groves and trees can be spotted growing along the river bank. The village is particularly spectacular if you visit during the evening hours, at sunset, when the light and colors of remain transparent and glisten above Aït Benhaddou, making it glow.
Aït Benhaddou village is divided in two parts. The modern part is filled with tourist shops and parking spaces. Upon crossing the Oued (dry riverbed), you will enter into the Ksar, the real highlight. To prepare for the best photo opportunity, keep in mind that sunrise is the best time to discover the golden rays that jet across the Aït Benhaddou village. Afternoon or sunset shots can also be impressive, yet, they are more difficult to capture. The most popular things to photograph include the Kasbahs within the village, palm trees, decorative motifs, charming small streets filled with donkeys, or storks making a home on top of a mud house.
In the Aït Benhaddou area, the only parts not well preserved are the badly damaged mud houses (ksours). Although most of them are now in ruins as a result of their former inhabitants’ neglect, the homes are nonetheless interesting to explore because each one has a unique charm and tells its own story. To get an overall picture of Aït Benhaddou, you can climb to the top of one of the neighbouring hills, which it seems is a popular place even for the locals to catch a glimpse of the place where their forefathers used to live.