Fortified City of Ait Ben Haddou (World Heritage)

The fortified village of Aït-Benhaddou is located on the southern edge of the High Atlas. The complex, built from air-dried adobe bricks, consists of six nested citadels, so-called kasbas. Its high storage towers are visible from afar. The picturesque Berber settlement has served as a film set in several Hollywood productions.

Fortified City of Ait Ben Haddou: Facts

Official title: Fortified city of Ait Ben Haddou
Cultural monument: well-fortified Berber village with nested buildings made of yellow rammed earth and with derelict Agadir
Continent: Africa
Country: Morocco
Location: Ait-Ben-Haddou, northwest of Ouarzazate, on the southern edge of the High Atlas
Appointment: 1987
Meaning: one of the most impressive “fortified villages” in southern Morocco

Fortified City of Ait Ben Haddou: History

1472-1554 Rule of the Berber Ouattasids
1554-1654 Rule of the Arab Saadians
since 1666/67 Rule of the Arab Alaouites
1904 Entente between Great Britain and France to recognize French interests in Morocco
1912 Morocco becomes a French protectorate
1919-26 Rif-Berber uprising under Abd el-Krim
1933 Bombardment pacifies the Berber Ait Hadiddou

Life in walls of clay

The Berber settlements with their residential towers, the so-called »Tighremts«, rise above the barren sand and stone deserts in southern Morocco like relics from bygone days. In the course of many centuries, due to the building materials made available by nature – clay or stone, palm or wood trunks, reeds or brushwood – and the different ways of life in the oasis valleys of the Sahara foreland, field farming or in the mountain regions of the High Atlas, livestock farming developed and different village structures formed. Although most of the Tighremts are hardly more than a hundred years old, it can be assumed that the construction of the Berber villages, as well as the overall living conditions in southern Morocco, have changed little to this day.

The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, which has already served several times as a backdrop for film productions with mostly biblical and historical themes due to its primeval, still largely closed site – Robert Aldrich shot his film »Sodom and Gomorrah« or Ridley Scott here the “Gladiator” and Oliver Stone his “Alexander” – is located on a hillside on one of the southern foothills of the High Atlas. In the archaic architecture of the Berber settlement, influences from the Draa Valley are visible, especially the multi-storey construction made of rammed earth with corner towers, which is so typical for southern Morocco according to agooddir. Their upper zones are decorated with geometrical ornamental motifs – zigzag lines and diamond lattices – which can be seen from afar, which originally had a disaster prevention function.

Each Tighremt served both defense and residential purposes. On the windowless ground floor there were storage rooms for supplies and household appliances; the middle floor usually contained another pantry, a smoky kitchen and bedrooms. The upper floor consisted of the living room with two small windows at floor level – you sat, ate and slept on the floor, since wooden furniture was almost unknown – and a roof terrace. Meals were prepared and eaten there, there were looms or looms, sewing and braiding, and the family met for an evening chat. The stables and the shed for the farm implements were arranged around the courtyard, in which the clay oven for baking the bread was also located.

Each family provided themselves with everything they needed for life: Grain and vegetables were planted in tiny fields near the river. Sheep and goats served as milk suppliers and as live meat stores; Their wool was used to make clothes, blankets, and carpets, and their skins were made into sandals and water hoses. Palm trunks “transformed” into supporting beams for ceilings and stairs or for ramps inside the houses, palm fronds into woven mats.

Facilities shared by the villagers – apart from a small prayer room without a minaret and the threshing floor outside the ksar – were unknown; there was not even a shop or tea room. Merchants rarely found their way into these remote areas, and metal items remained a precious and well-guarded possession. Ceramic products were also rarely found, as they were unsuitable for summer wanderings with the herds of cattle. Instead, people preferred leather, woven or woven products.

During and after the French colonial era, the residential castles in the Berber villages became insignificant as defensive structures, especially after the bombardments of 1933. In addition, the adobe buildings, which were always in need of renovation, no longer corresponded to the expectations of its residents, who gradually settled for the most part in a new district.

Fortified City of Ait Ben Haddou (World Heritage)