Saturday, October 1, 2011

Aït Benhaddou. آيت بن حدّو

Aït Benhaddou is a ksar  (fortified city) which is a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high defensive walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat.

As described on the UNESCO website,

" Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together - some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick - but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. 

Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer."


Aït Benhaddou is an eminent example of a ksar and for this reason it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

The village is located on a hill overlooking the Ouarzazate River. It was once a rest stop for traders traveling along the ancient Sahara caravan route between the Sahara and present day Marrakesh and that is the route that we will be taking to get there from Fes.

When I first saw pictures of Aït Benhaddou, it reminded me of the mud buildings in Djenné, Mali. As with those buildings, the ones in Aït Benhaddou shed a layer of earth with each rainstorm. The ones in Mali are replastered by hand at the end of rainy season.  I don't these are treated the same way.  If not, then some day, this village may entirely disappear.  That would be very sad.

I have no idea how we will arrive into the village but apparently, you have to somehow cross the river to get to the village.  Hmmm....it will be rainy season so could be dicey.  I have no problems wading across the but I'm not so sure my travel mates will be too keen on having to do that.  We'll just have to see what awaits us :-)

The recommended way to see the village is to start out by climbing to the top of the granary above the ksar to get a magnificent view of the entire village and the High Atlas mountains in the distance.  After that, you just wander the narrow streets.

Apparently, most of the town's inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river.  However, a few families still live within the ksar and they 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.  I won't need any souvenirs to remind me of this village as I am sure I will have tons of photos.  On the other hand, I do want to be able to linger as I walk along.  It's rare that I get to go to a place like Aït Benhaddou so I want time to go by slowly so I can soak it all in.  Really looking forward to seeing this place!