For 5 dirham you can go up inside to the top of a kasbah and get a basic idea of the layout in which up to 4 families lived in these fortified homes.
Its rather dark especially down in the lower areas where the animals lived and grains were stored as you make your way up the mudbrick stairways to each level as more light appears from the open roof and windows on the upper storeys.
Good views from the roof.
You could ask for a guide if you wish - if youve never been into see one of these homes then its well worth it - i am familiar with these places having had tours around this type of home at Skoura, Tafroute, Telouet and Ouarzazate.
Down the cobbled path with the (hustlers) shops with the usual scarves, pottery, jewellery, rugs and all sorts of trinkets and anything sellable on either side and then cross the river - which may be a dry river bed, or with a bit of water in it hop over on the stepping stones (or if lots of water then head further up the river to the far end of the village to the new pedestrian bridge that has been built) is the rather impressive entrance in through the gate of this fortified mudbrick city of fortified homes
- where you pay 10 dirham for a ticket (which is actually only about 75p)
Its another 5 dirham to go up inside one of the first kasbahs/fortified homes as you enter the first courtyard through the gate - one of the tower blocks that you see on the side profile of photos of Ait BenHaddou and well worth it really - you get to see where the animals are usually kept and on up through the floors and various living areas to the roof for excellent views
Ive been up kasbahs at Telouet, Skoura and Tafraoute but I like to take opportunities as they come along!
When approaching the village of Ait Benhaddou there is a viewpoint with parking area on the right side of the road - pull in here for great views of the multilevelled old town of multi kasbahed Ait Benhaddou - as it graduates up the hill to the fortress and granary on top of its hill from the plain in the valley its built on.
As well as a great panoramic view of the desert like terrain that surrounds the green life within this valley. Visiting now in early February with lots of snow on the atlas mountains throughout most of the area there are snow topped mountains visible from this viewpoint as well.
Usually during the day, especially in good weather when theres most likely to be tourists about and stopping here there will be a few snake handlers and trinket sellers stationed here to ply their wares....fairly laid back and if you are not interested generally will leave you in peace to take your photos of the views.
Viewing Ait- Benhaddou from the front entrance, or from above - the fortified wall of the exterior looks like it is part of the history of this architecturally preserved Ksar.
Well, the impressive looking entrance gateway was added late last century, in order to provide an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for Mr. Russell Crowe et al to fight it out for the filming of the Blockbuster film-Gladiator. (Apparently the river bed was flattened for the same film).
I caught a re-run of the film on TV recently, It was quite interesting to see a place I'd been to recently, appear on the screen.
I only saw this front from a distance, so I didn't get to check it out from close up, but it appeared to blend in well, It didn't appear to be obviously false, even after this had been pointed out by our guide.
Another reason for it being a false front is that Ksars don't have an entrance gate - Ksars are constantly evolving, so there are no boundaries/entrances etc !
In Ouarzazate, earlier in my trip, I'd had seen some 'false buildings' pointed out, that had been used as film sets in the town. The local craftsmen are quite skilled at producing these authentic looking structures.
Climbing to the top of the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is well worth the effort, for the views over the hammada (stony desert ), the Palmyra landscape, and views over the riverbed.
The Granary-or Agadir is the best viewpoint - Please see my previous tip for more information.
I'd advise doing it early morning or late afternoon as the sun isn't as fierce, plus better light for photos etc.
It's probably not so easy for those with breathing or mobility problems, but it is do-able if you take your time.
It is a fairly steep climb, and the pathways aren't even- there are some slightly tricky small rocks to climb over on the way up, but it's not too difficult
Remember your hat, shoes or boots with a good grip, and bottled water etc. I also found my walking pole to be useful, but would probably have managed OK without it.
I first spotted this donkey as we approached the Ksar - it was carrying water bottles up a pathway near the entrance, guided by its owner..
Later, while enjoying a glass of mint tea in one of the locals houses, I was startled by it suddenly appearing and braying loudly in the doorway, right next to where I was sat.
I nearly spilt my mint tea!
Apparently this donkey is a bit of a celebrity for visitors to Ait BenHaddou - featuring in other VTers ABH pages too - it probably has appeared on the big screen also!
Oh and I found out he likes Polo mints!! I don't know if he/she has a name!
Ait means 'belonging to'. So this is the Ksar of Ben Haddou!
This Unesco protected Ksar is well worth a visit, whether to recognise the place from some of the block buster films that have featured this place- Gladiator, Alexander, Jesus of Nazareth, Lawrence of Arabia etc,or to wander around the narrow lanes, seeing some typical Moroccan life, or to enjoy the short steep climb to the granary above the Ksar, with its stunning views.
This isn't just a film set or Museum though, families still live here, though the numbers have steadily dwindled over the years. Many former inhabitants have moved across the Oued Ounila - the dried up river bed, to a newer village.
Villagers living here eke out a living by charging a small donation to show people around their homes, - presumably they make extra money when the film crews arrive, either working as extras, or charging if their homes are used.
There are a few artisans shops too, with paintings, jewelery, pyrography etc. being demonstrated, and for sale.
I visited Ait Ben Haddou as part of a guided tour with Exodus travel. We spent the night in a nearby hotel (see my accommodation tips) then visited this Ksar in the morning.
I enjoyed this visit. I've seen other tips complaining about the 'entrance charge' that the locals claim - I don't have any qualms about paying - It's not a huge amount, and it could make a difference to their lives. This is just my opinion- make up your own mind about this.
Apparently, invading troops didn't kill the inhabitants of the kasbahs or ksars outright, instead they stole their grain etc, therefore starving to death the inhabitants - Nice eh?
So at Ait Benhaddou, the prominent granary, sited at the top of the hill, is fortified, and positioned so that any approaching armies could be spotted well in advance.
You'll notice that each corner on the flat roof of the granary has an L shaped raised bit (pic 1 and 2) - this is a design replicated in Moroccan architecture. (often in Restaurants etc)
Its' purpose was to enable soldiers protecting the granary to lay, with their guns aimed, but with their heads protected from enemy fire.
The walk up to the granary is worth it for the view from the top, but could be slightly difficult for those with walking/ breathing difficulties. If you take your time, you should be ok.
Stepping inside of the houses of the old part of Ait ben haddou is mostly no problem at all, as these houses are mostly not used any more for living by the local population. You will learn a lot about the way these houses had been constructed, you will see the shady inner-courts, the store-rooms and a lot more !
To construct one of these houses, they built a form made of wood and placed it, where the house should be.
The clay was put into water and straw was added and finally it was put into the forms untill it got a certain hight of about 1 meter...
then the clay was dried by the sun, while the form was built again a bit higher and higher step by step.
on a ROTEL-bustour through Morocco we made a lunch-break just opposite of Ait Benhaddou.
There is a river we had to cross before beeing able to visit the old town, and we have been told, to cross it only with local guides, who will know the way to cross it.
The ground of the mostly flat river is full of rolling stones, streams may occur and you may fall into the water all of a sudden, as the depth of the river varies a lot.
When we arrived, plenty of children of all ages offered us to lead us to the town, some of them pushing the others in order to get the best deals...
I went in a shop to buy postcards until most of the children were gone, and finally I was asked by this young Lady, whether she should lead me to that town.
Sali was maybe 7 years old and she knew exactly the way to cross the river. My little tourguide spoke a very clear French with me, and even could speak some German, and while we crossed the river, she counted from 1 to 10 in English,French and German and it sounded a bit like one of the rhimes, children would sing in that age. While we were walking through town and Sali was counting from 1 to 10, it took just a few minutes to explain to her, that except 11 and 12 all other numbers till 20 and furtheron go the same way as 1-10, and at the end of the tour,she could easily count till 30 in German...
My 2nd pic : what is Sali happily hiding in her apron ?
While she was counting in the different languages she actually also counted some coins in her hand, and when I changed a film I offered her one of the empty black film-boxes and she was so very happy about that new "purse", that I emptied my camera-bag and gave her all the boxes I had...
that is what she had in her apron then.
Between Ait Ben Haddou and Zagora you will find the so-called "Street of the Casbahs", a series of old clay-villages but none of them is as big as Ait Ben Haddou and most of these clay-houses in the street of Casbas are still used for everyday life by the local population, so you would only be able to take pics from outside there.
Local markets in Morroco are an absolute must !These markets are held once a week somewhere on a big square inside or even completely outside of the small villages.
We were lucky to pass by such a market-square in an open field, where merchants and customers came obviously from big distances just to do their shopping and offer their goods.
You will see men riding on a donkey, while the wife and daughter are walking next to the donkey (my 2nd and 3rd pic), you will see oldfashioned scales and a lot more.
Taking pics on a market might be a problem, when you are not part of a group, that is just walking through and taking fast pics here or there.
Of course you should ask for permisson, but you will never catch the situations you are looking for - and they will ask for some money and finally they will look completely differently on the pic...
All of the buildings that you will find inside the old town of Ait Ben Haddou were made of nothings else than just clay and staw, mixed with water, pressed togeather and finally dried in the sun.
Look at the lovely ornaments and the many storeys these buildings have.
Arches like the one shown on my picture have also wooden elements, otherwise it would not be possible to build it that way by the primitive technique.
We entered the old town of Ait Ben Haddou by a small side-entrance. Some of the houses are still used for stables for sheep and goats, but they seem to be not comfortable enough to live there for everyday life of the local population.
This fact gives also a great chance to the tourists, to go inside some of the buildings and take a closer look without the need to ask for permission or maybe disturbing anyone.
In any case the tourguides will know, where you may enter and where it is not possible or advisable.
This was the main entrance to the old village of Ait Ben Haddou and once it played also an important role in the movie " Sodom and Gomorrah "
It sounds strange to us, but these walls, simply made of clay, straw and water get so very hard, that once that they are totally dried out in the burning sun, these walls may well defend the village against enemies.
Nowadys there are only a few people still living in this old part of town.