Website Category: Fortified Towns of the Trans-Sahara Trading Route
Area: 3.0 km2
Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition (v) interaction with the environment
Location and Values: The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, a natural gateway to the desert, 30 km north-west of the Moroccan town of Ouarzazate. Ksar (plural Ksour) is the term used for a fortified tribal village, and Ait-Ben-Haddou is a prime example of one of these villages, dating from the 17th century and built entirely of local organic materials, with a rich red mud plaster. It stands on a small hill on the left bank of the Ounila River, dominating the valley which once served as a principal trading route across the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh and beyond.
The Ksar has a high defensive earthen wall with angle towers and baffle gate, surrounding a remarkable ensemble of dwellings, with narrow alleys climbing the hillside. Some of the homes of the wealthy traders are grand multi-storey mud-built structures (known as kasbahs) with quite elaborate decorative motifs and angular corner towers resembling small castles. On the top of the hill there is large fortified granary, or agadir.
Slideshow of the Ksar Of Ait-Ben-Haddou: The slideshow features 51 recent (2011) photos of the Ksar, showing its strategic location in the Ounila Valley, and the impressive integrity of the whole ensemble of earthen buildings, glowing red in the early morning, and late evening sun. Few of the homes are occupied these days, but the interior of one is shown, including several of its small rooms, which include a room for the family’s sheep. From the hilltop above the Ksar there are spectacular views in all directions, and the modern town of Ait Ben Haddou on the opposite bank of the river – which is at least twice the size of the ancient Ksar – can be seen.
Slideshow of the Ksar Of Ait-Ben-Haddou:
strong>Comments and Impressions: Today the trans-Saharan trade along this route has died and Ait Ben-Haddou is maintained with public money as a historical monument, and through the efforts of those involved in the brisk tourist trade. The nature of the structures makes them extremely vulnerable to weathering, as demonstrated by the many crumbling Ksour and Kasbahs elsewhere in this part of Morocco.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details