Rock the Kasbah at Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Click to see tours that include visits to Ait Ben Haddou.

About a 30-minute drive from Ouarzazate, Morocco, or a long day-trip from Marrakech, Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified village (ksar) in south-central Morocco. It’s only one of many ksars built by the indigenous Amazighen (Berbers) in the area, but, thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a setting for a long list of Hollywood films, this ksar, unlike its fellows, is well preserved. It sits in the southern foothills of the High Atlas Mountains on the old trade route between the Sahara desert and Marrakech.

Within the thick, earthen walls you’ll find a jumble of small dwellings and kasbahs (large dwellings) arranged around narrow alleys. Most of the buildings are abandoned but a number of families still live on site. Artisan shops and cafes are multiplying to take advantage of the tourist trade, especially in the lower town. Some visitors lament these shops as a detraction from the authenticity of the place. To me, it seems perfectly authentic that residents should make the most of the resource that is their tourist-attraction home. For the most part they’re selling quality handicrafts and are not pushy about it. Ait Ben Haddou was historically a way-station for merchant caravans after all, born to shelter traveling salesmen and nurture the agreeable deal. If mud walls could talk, tales of the dusty foreigners and exotic goods of old would spin through the streets with the Atlas breeze.

Film crews, on the other hand, are decidedly not authentic to Ait Ben Haddou but are nevertheless appreciated by the local economy. Scenes from Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would be King, Gladiator, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Mummy, Alexander and Game of Thrones were shot here, to name just a few.

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Take a couple of hours to explore and chat with the locals. You might be invited for tea. Hike up hill through the maze for ever-changing views of the surrounding countryside.

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Click to see tours that include visits to Ait Ben Haddou.

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