Photo by: linpadgham , Creative Commons

History lovers who visit Morocco must make Ait-Ben-Haddou a key part of their itinerary. Ait-Ben-Haddou is a fortified village, or ksar, located on a hill overlooking the Ouarzazate River. It is made up of several small fortresses (Kasbahs) which are approximately ten meters in height. The village was once a stop along the ancient Sahara Trade Route where traders carrying cargos of slaves, spices and other goods would pause to rest on their way to Timbuktu or the Western Sahara.

The site has been a backdrop for many classic movies, beginning with Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 to more recent films like Gladiator in 2000 and Alexander in 2004. The many outstanding examples of Southern Morocco still led UNESCO to declare Ait-Ben-Haddou a World Heritage Site in 1987.

A trip to Ait-Ben-Haddou is like a visit back in time to an era when the pace of life was slower and more placid. Only a few families continue to live in the ksar as the majority of inhabitants have moved across the river to more modern homes. The ones remaining will gladly open their homes to visitors for a fee; some of the residents also offer traditional Moroccan art and jewelry for sale, which tourists can take back home as souvenirs of their trip.

Tourists visiting Ait-Ben-Haddou can get there by crossing the river on camels from their hotel, with a man in traditional Berber dress serving as a tourist guide. They can wander the narrow streets or climb to the top of the granary above the ksar to get a magnificent view of the entire village. This point also provides views of Jebel Toubkal and other High Atlas mountains, which are paradoxically capped with snow despite the country’s extreme temperatures. And if you can stay until sunset, you will be rewarded with the magnificent sight of the setting sun setting off the red of the Kasbahs’ mud-brick walls.

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