The dozens of kasbahs that populate the south of Morocco have a real capital 30 kilometers from Ouarzazate. At the gates of the desert, the impressive ksar or kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou raises its adobe houses on the slopes of a cliff creating in the visitor a feeling of living a journey through time.
A ksar is a fortified village of Berber origin and composed of numerous kasbahs inside, the typical construction of North Africa made with traditional materials such as adobe or wood. Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah is the best known ksar in Morocco and probably one of the most impressive and fascinating monuments in the country.
To enter this fort is to lose orientation for a moment. The narrow streets and passages of this urban labyrinth are squeezed between houses with several centuries of history and resist, virtually uninhabited, to the passage of time.
As in other cases, Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah has been taken to the cinema in numerous major film productions. As we shall see, its architecture is the perfect set for filming movies and series.
History of Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah
The place takes its name in honor of its founder, Ben Haddou, who according to legend established a tribe here in 757. It is believed that his tomb is buried under the city. The constructions of the current ksar belong to the 17th century, when the city gained strategic importance in North Africa.
The key to Ait Ben Haddou is that it was a very important stop on the route of traders between Marrakech and the Sahara. Caravans carrying gold, silver and spices on the trans-Saharan trade routes that for a thousand years linked the territories that are now Morocco, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Sudan.
The citadel provided a place of welcome for these traders, with an inn, mosque, granary and other services where they could stop during a journey of months.
Ait Ben Haddou is the best preserved and most representative set of kasbahs in Morocco, which earned it to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. But all of southern Morocco has similar constructions that are part of the so-called Route of the Thousand Kasbahs, which from the city of Ouarzazate dot the different valleys of these small oases of life in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
What to see in the kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou
What is inside the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou? Despite its popularity multiplied by the cinema, and its antiquity, the fortress is still inhabited by a few families who resist inside the walls.
This walled city is a real labyrinth of streets and adobe houses that rises around a hill where the citadel is located. To access from the current new city, you have to cross a bridge over the Ounila River, although there are also those who cross it on foot, thanks to its low flow.
The ksar has three entrance gates. Once inside, we can admire the different areas that made up the life of the city. One part, the one closest to the river, was linked to the wealthier classes, near the mosque, where the houses reached five stories high. It is still possible to perceive these nuances despite being in an almost empty place.
The walls still protect the monumental complex. The keep of the kasbah serves as a reference of the magnitude of the place. From it you get an incomparable view of this desert territory on which only the peaks of the Atlas break the monotony of the landscape.
One of the great virtues of the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou, and that was largely worth its recognition by Unesco, is the level of conservation and authenticity with which it has come to this day, maintaining constructions with the original materials, adobe, earth, straw and wood. And here cement and concrete are forbidden.
Series and movie appearances
Who has not been in a real place that has been the scene of a movie? The list is endless and the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is one of those spaces that are already part of the history of cinema, as a backdrop and protagonist at the same time of many films that have become Hollywood blockbusters.
In Ait Ben Haddou, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) became a slave in front of a Roman coliseum (Gladiator). But also, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) arrives at the gates of Yunkai to conquer the city and free the slaves (Game of Thrones). Or, decades ago, when T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) passes through here in Lawrence of Arabia.
Let’s review a few titles from the huge list of films and series shot in Ait Ben Haddou:
- Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- Sodom and Gomorrah (1963)
- Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
- The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
- 007: High Tension (1987)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
- The Mummy (1999)
- Gladiator (2000)
- Alexander the Great (2004)
- Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
- Babel (2006)
- Prince of Persia (2010)
- Game of Thrones (2011)
- Queen of the Desert (2015)
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