My travels around the world


Morocco

Ksar of At Ben Haddou

After a very busy time at the office, ke and I decided we needed a break from the wintery weather in Sweden, and booked a spontaneous last minute trip to Morocco. We hadn't really had to time to plan much, besides booking the first and last night in Marrakesh. But with a rental car, we decided to drive east, in the direction of the desert. Being early February, it is far from high season, giving us all opportunities to just go and see where would end up. And one of those fantastic places we ended up at is here in At Ben Haddou!

Below you can find an impression of my short visit to At Ben Haddou in the Atlas Mountains. And as usual, all the photos in the collage are clickable, so you can view the larger photo if you like.


Ksar of At Ben Haddou, Morocco


driving towards At Ben Haddou

We made an early start of the day and travelled from Marrakesh, through the Atlas mountains, towards At Ben Haddou. We crossed the Atlas Mountains through the pass of Tizi nTichka, which is at an altitude of 2260m, and appearantly the highest road mountain pass in North Africa.

It was quite the drive, with endless winding roads through the mountains. But it is beautiful one, and absolutely worth doing! So we took our time, and drove leisurely, making several stops along the way to take in the sights from the winding road.

But there, all of a sudden, it was in front of us: the Ksar of At Ben Haddou! For me this was an absolute "wow" moment, so breathtaking and very surrealistic to see this intricate full-sized sandcastle-like structure; something I personally had never seen in my life before.


Hopping over the sand bags to get to the Ksar

View over At Ben Haddou from the river

We parked our car in the 'modern' part of the town on the other side of the valley, and from there it was only a short walk towards the ksar. We were greeted by some colourful souvenir shops on the way, and crossed the little river by hopping over the sand bags, which were strategically placed in the small flow of water.

And by getting closer, my awe didn't get less; on the contrary! Getting closer to this dream-like town, got me even more fascinated by the place. And the views from the river towards At Ben Haddou are simply stunning. It is not surprising that it was declared a Unesco site in 1987, with its red mudbrick houses clinging to the hill, it is an impressive sight. This ksar is a striking example of architecture of southern Morocco with its sturdy earthen clay buildings and walls.


Tower decorated with designs of clay
Walking past a colourful souvenir shop

Do you see the huge stork nest on the right tower?

The history of the Ksar goes back a long time, having been a stop-off on the old caravan routes: the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi nTichka pass (the route we just came from).

Its towers and red mud-brick houses date back to the 17th century.

The Ksars are walled cities constructed generally on the shores of the rivers to secure the water supply. The Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat and consists of a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls. These houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Some houses are big and impressive, like litte castles, others are far more modest. Striking are the high towers on the corners, decorated with designs of clay at the top.

This small street (photo above right) brought us to the gate to enter into the Ksar. And I loved it here. Walking through the small alleyways and streets of the ksar: getting lost, not really knowing where we are, and where we are going, but slowly winding upwards to the top. I am taking in the views, the architecture, looking at all the nooks and crannies, being surprised many times.

The earth buildings in the pre-Saharan region are characterised by rammed earth and adobe (mud) techniques for the walls. And the roofs and upper floors are made from palm wood beams, covered with canes and compacted earth. And the dry earth gives a fascinating crackled effect to the walls as you can see in the photos below. And this red earth also gives an orange glow to every corner of the ksar. The rusty objects almost disappear against the background of these walls.

To my total surprise there are animals being held inside the Ksar. In one of the Kasbah we found quite a few farm animals; a donkey as you can see in the photo, but also cows, sheep and chickens.

There are only a few families still living in the village. And while wandering around this great maze of narrow streets and quiet alleys, we suddenly bumped into this lady, busy weaving and greeting us with a friendly smile. Oops, did we just walk into part of her house...? The whole maze of streets is quite confusing as you don't know at times are you are walking into a house, or are still on the street.

She was actually one of the very few people we met during our exploration of the Ksar. Visiting in February is unusual, as it is still winter here, and totally outside of the tourist season. Winter can be quite cold in Morocco, and At Ben Haddou is no exception.

But during this sunny day it was nice and warm during the day, making it the perfect weather to explore the place. But during the night, brrr, it got so cold! But the clear advantage of visiting this time of year is that you will have the place all for yourself :-)

Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou

The granary

We walked all the way to the top where you will find the ancient granary store. You cannot enter the granary, and to be honest, it isn't that spectacular to look at.

BUT, the uninterrupted views from here over At Ben Haddou and the surrounding landscape are just lovely. It is absolutely worth it to take the time to climb all the way to the top and enjoy these great views.

Quite striking is that the houses and the hillside blend in with the same reddish color.

Looking over the surrounding landscape from the granary

Going 'dawn'?

After having absorbed the beautiful view from the top, the only thing remaining for the day is to make our way down. Or 'dawn' as was written somewhere on the many steps :-)

The day has been great, and the visit to At Ben Haddou has been so rewarding. But now it is high time to find a place to stay for the night. But, that is a total different story, that I hopefully will write on one of my pages in the future.

Simone & ke, At Ben Haddou, February 2011

 


It would be great to hear from you!
So please leave a comment or a question.
:-) Simone

 


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