Historic Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou in Morocco

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The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou is a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Morocco that has become one of the most photographed historical buildings in Morocco. It’s located south east of Marrakech on the flat arid plains of the Ounila Valley at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains.

History of Morocco’s Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou fortification from a distance.
Aït Ben Haddou from a good distance

The site of the Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou has been fortified since the 11th century. Most of the buildings there today are believed to date from around the 17th century and have been built with the same construction methods and designs that had been used for centuries.

Entrance to Ait Ben Haddou.
Gates into Aït Ben Haddou

The reason that they located a ksar in Aït Ben Haddou was because of its strategic importance in the Ounila Valley which was on one of the main Saharan trade routes. On one side of the city heading north west is the Tizi n’Tichka pass going high over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. On the other side heading south east is the Dra’a Valley on the edge of the Sahara. There were other kasbahs along the route, however, the one at Aït Ben Haddou is one of the best preserved.

Architecture of The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou

Walls within Ait Ben Haddou.
The walls of Aït Ben Haddou tell tales of times past

A ksar is the name of a pre-Saharan town, which is typically made up of small houses crowded together within high defensive walls. All of the building work at Aït Ben Haddou is made using earthen construction techniques.

Earthen construction of tower at Ait Ben Haddou.
An earthern tower in Aït Ben Haddou

As you approach to enter Aït Ben Haddou, you can see that structurally within the walls there are angled towers protecting the town as well as several large gates. As you start to look more closely you will see that some of the dwellings resemble small castles. As well as people’s homes, you’ll find a mosque, a public square,a caravanserai and two cemeteries, all of which date back to the 17th century.

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What to see at the Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou?

What makes this particular ksar so special to visit, as there are many kasbahs in Morocco, is that it has been so beautifully restored. Once inside you’ll be able to imagine the energy it had during its heyday when it was a key stop on the Saharan trade route.

Street art within Ait Ben Haddou.
Street art within Aït Ben Haddou

The best way to experience the Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou is to wander the narrow streets, take in the atmosphere and meet the local people that work there today. If you keep heading upwards then eventually you’ll reach the top of the ksar then where you’ll find the grain store (agadir). From this vantage point you’ll have incredible views of the surrounding Atlas Mountains and beyond.

A small boy on a wooden swing in Ait Bed Haddou.
Cam enjoying the wooden swing

Interesting Facts

You might recognise the Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou, perhaps you’ll have a slight moment of deja vu. And yes, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d seen it somewhere before, that’s because you probably have if you’ve watched the movie Gladiator. Or maybe, you’re a Games of Thrones fan, then yes, you have seen it before. That’s because when it’s not busy being visited by tourists it doubles up as a film and TV set.

Practical Information for Visiting The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou in Morocco

The great thing is that the Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou is free to visit. However, if you want to enter a private house then you should expect to pay a small fee of around 20 dirhams to enter.

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It’s easy enough to walk around the site without a guide, you’ll find many different narrow streets to enjoy, and as long as you keep heading up, you’ll eventually reach the top where the agadir is. However, if you do arrive and prefer a little more structure and an historical overview then there are local guides at the entrance that you can hire for an hour or two.

There are still ongoing restoration works in the ksar, particularly at the top near to and including the agadir. This is to be expected from earth buildings, so take care when walking through the streets.

Top tip: The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou can get incredibly busy during the day with tourists because it is one of the top things to do in Morocco. The best time to experience it is first thing in the morning. There are some great accommodation options just outside the ksar, and being there onsite means that you can watch the sunrise which is one of the most spectacular times of day to see it.

How to get to The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou in Morocco?

The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou is 182km from Marrakesh which is about a 3 hour drive. You can either self-drive yourself there, or alternatively, there are many tours from Marrakech that head there and onto other sites such as Ouazazate. If you do decide to self drive then there are plenty of parking options within walking distance of The Ksar of Aït Ben Haddou.

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Bio: Sara of Big Adventures with Little Feet

Sara from Big Adventures with little feet.
Sara from Big Adventures with little feet

Sara Young is the author of Big Adventures With Little Feet, a family travel blog with the key aim to inspire parents to travel with their kids. She loves exploring the world with her sons and giving them big adventures, whether that’s hiking or skiing, sailing or surfing. She and her family spend the winters in Antigua in the Caribbean, where her boyfriend works as a yacht captain. They spend their summers travelling the world to find adventures. Follow Sara from Big Adventures With Little Feet on Instagram.

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Pinterest images of entrance gate and watch tower at Aït Ben Haddou
Pinterest images of Fortification, street art and wall at Aït Ben Haddou.

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