driving towards Aït Ben Haddou
We made an early start of the day and travelled from Marrakesh, through the Atlas mountains, towards Aït Ben Haddou. We crossed the Atlas Mountains through the pass of Tizi n’Tichka, 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 Aït 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 Aït 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 Aït 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 n’Tichka 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 Aït 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 :-)
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 Aït 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
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 Aït 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.