Aït Benhaddou village in Morocco

Aït Benhaddou is a mud brick village on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains that climbs up the side of a hill like giant sandcastles, in Ouarzazate province, southern Morocco.

Aït Benhaddou is an ighrem (fortified city or palace in English, ksar in Arabic), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. This giant fortification, which is made up of six forts (Kasbahs) and nearly fifty palaces which are individual forts, is a great example of earthen clay architecture, which is also used in Moroccan architecture.

Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas, the site of Aït Benhaddou is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley. A group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. Houses crowd together within defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers.

Most citizens living in the area now live in more modern dwellings in a nearby village, although there are 4 families still living in the ancient city.

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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

The architectural style is well preserved and the earthen constructions are perfectly adapted to the climatic conditions and are in harmony with the natural and social environment.

Inside the defensive walls are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick. It is an ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques.

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Aït Benhaddou is on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1987 and has featured in many films, including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.

As featured in Road to Desert • Morocco | JOEJOURNEYS