The Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Hadou, yet another intruiging destination in Morocco. If you travel to Morocco, make sure to visit and feel like a king or queen in this surprising settlement. It is also a great and safe place for your children.
This post could have easily been carrying a different title: “Ait-Ben-Hadou – a day at the movies“. The area around the city of Ouarzazate (close to Ait-Ben-Hadou) has been home to many international film crews that have shot amazing scenes here. Remember Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Cleopatra, Asterix & Obelix and many more. Ouarzazate hosts one of the largest movie studios in the world (Atlas Studios) but also the whole area around the town is just one big film studio. The scenery is beautiful and chances are big that you run into a crew shooting scenes of another Hollywood (or European for that matter) blockbuster (we did!).
Atlas Film Studio in Ouarzazate
Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Hadou
Close to Ouarzazate the old Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Hadou plays its own role. A Kasbah or Ksar is considered a group of earthen (clay) buildings surrounded by high defensive walls. It is reinforced by corner towers. Ait-Ben-Haddou dates from the 7th century and is a real example of southern Moroccan architecture.
Situated on one side of a large hill, the place plays with your imagination. The clay houses seem to crawl up the hill. At least, they would love to. But the heat in the Moroccan desert withholds them from putting in too much effort. Instead, they stand and capture the light of each sunset, slowly turning everything from light to dark red.
The Kasbah is listed on the UNESCO world heritage list, but is still home to 8 families I was told. Ait-Ben-Hadou has been the scene for famous movies like The Mummy, Gladiator and Jewel of the Nile. Maybe you don’t feel like a Gladiator immediately, but hey, try to use your imagination!
We spent 2 full days around Ait-Ben-Hadou and we loved every minute of it. Our kids loved it for several reasons:
1. Wandering the streets of Ait-Ben-Hadou, exploring
Once you passed the guards at the gate (mind you, some will convince you not to use the main entrance but guide you somewhere else. Of course the entrance fee is somewhat higher over there (that’s the demanding life of a tourist, but don’t let it ruin your mood!).
So where was I? Once you passed the guards at the gate, the Kasbah is open for you. You can wander around narrow streets, knock on doors or just play hide and seek. Silently the roads will bring you higher and everytime the view gets more impressive. Your kids can hardly get lost, just let them wander around.
2. Free to enter the buildings, no questions asked.
Most of the buildings are open to visit. It’s hard to believe, being a 7th century Unesco World Heritage site having hardly any restricitions. It kind of felt strange. But we were pleasantly surprised to find out we could just enter a house, open secret doors, look in forgotten rooms, climb the stairs, and enjoy the view from the roof.
3. Climb on top of the hill and feel like you conquered the world
The view from top of the hill made me climb it twice in these two days! The colours are amazing: red rock, yellowish sand and an orange glow with bits of green. Ouch, nature can be harmfully beautiful.
Me, I could have stayed there for hours and hours. The silence, sometimes disturbed by a far-away sound from the town itself, the wind blowing, it was surrealistic.
4. Hotel in Kasbah style with view on Ait-Ben-Hadou
There are some hotels and souvenir shops, but not that much. This makes the place more genuine. We had a great hotel with a swimming pool (a must for the kids to wash of all the desert sand and dust) and a fabulous view of the kasbah.
The hotel was built in the old Moroccan style, and of course made of clay. Doors and windows were small, to keep out the cold in winter and the sunlight in summer.
If you need details of this hotel or any other advice about our travel in Morocco, please drop me a comment below.
Ait-Ben-Haddou breathes authenticity. I guess that’s why I liked it so much: its typical architectural style, the use of specific building material, the ease of the surrounding area (there were some touristic shops, but not like you see in Marrakech), the opportunity to just stroll and wander the narrow streets, looking around and try to grasp a glimpse of daily life in an ancient kasbah. Is it a movie or is it for real?
By the way, which famous movie locations did you visit?
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