Aït ben Haddou
Historical Ksar to Ouarzazate
At the foot of the Ounila valley, the ksar Aït ben Haddou, next to a hillside overlooking the wadi Mellah, enjoys a remarkable panorama.
Some families still live in the maze of small, sloping alleys and covered passages of the old ksar.
At the top of the hill, a dungeon overlooks the stacking of terraces with crenellated towers, and enjoys an unobstructed view of the ksar, the cultures bordering the wadi Mellah and the snows of the Atlas Mountains that radiate far away most of the year.
Two gates open the access to the ksar: one on the right, through an alley lined with souvenir shops, and the other crossing the bank of the river wadi; when there is water, one crosses it ford on sandbags, or, with a few dirhams, on the back of a mule during major floods.
History of Aït ben Haddou
The first vestiges of a fortified collective granary, called “agadir”, would go back to the period of the Almoravide dynasty, in the XI century where different Berber-speaking populations, white, black, Jewish or Muslim, lived side by side with a very structured internal system maintaining the coherence of the future ksar.
This was the era of the supremacy of the Aït Aissa clan; then the army of Youssouf Ibn Tachfin, Berber king of the Almoravides dynasty, coming from the Sahara to go to Marrakesh, invades the region and appoints the Aït ben Haddou clan responsible for the ksar.
Strategic location and compulsory passage for caravans coming from West Africa, crossing the passes of Tizi Telouet and Tizi n Tichka, in the direction of Marrakesh and the Mediterranean.
The Aït Aissa clan retained a definite influence on the ksar, which was also called “ksar Aït Aissa” until the middle of the 19th century.
Around 1855, it was the Glaouis clan of Marrakesh who took control of the Western High Atlas and Draa Valley in order to gain control of these trade routes.
The Glaouis clan and the Aït ben Haddou clan proceeded to several marriages and consolidated their respective positions through these alliances until the independence of Morocco.
Finally, the disgrace of the Glaoui of Marrakesh will accelerate the erosion of the social fabric within the old ksar which will collapse with the disappearance of its traditional hierarchy.
As early as 1956, the population prefers to settle on the right bank of the wadi Mellah deserting the abandoned ksar which begins to collapse. In the 1960s, tourism and cinema with films as famous as “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Lawrence of Arabia” took over to revive Ksar Aït ben Haddou.
Tourist heritage of southern Morocco
In 1987, Unesco listed Aït ben Haddou’s ksar as a World Heritage Site. With more than 150,000 visitors per year, the ksar of Aït ben Haddou has become an essential place for tourism in southern Morocco.
Come to the ksar Aït ben Haddou:
From Ouarzazate, take the direction of Marrakesh, and at about twenty kilometers follow the fork on the right indicating Aït ben Haddou at 9 km.
Otherwise, large taxis are available from the bus station (20 dirhams per person).
Be careful though, if you want to return to Ouarzazate at the end of the day, you may not find a transport for the return trip and have to stop.
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