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Aït Ben Haddou, the ancient Kasbah of Morocco and famous filming location

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Aït Benhaddou is a fortified city in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It is an excellent example of earthen clay architecture, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This city was once an important stop on the caravan route between the Sahara Desert and the Moroccan cities of Marrakech and Fez.

The village is home to a number of old kasbahs, which are traditional Moroccan dwellings. Aït Ben Haddou has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its well-preserved architecture.

The Citadel of Aït Ben Haddou

Ait Ben-Haddou, a stunning example of North African pise clay architecture dating back hundreds of years, is just outside the southern Moroccan town of Ouarzazate.

The site is thought to have been fortified since the 11th century. Although most of the buildings and the maze-like streets you see today are from the 17th century, Aït Ben-Haddou was an important trading post that linked ancient Sudan with Marrakech on one of several trans-Saharan trade routes.

Aït Ben-Haddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and comprises six kasbahs and almost fifty ksours (individual kasbahs), made from rammed earth, adobe, clay bricks and wood. It was a fortified village with houses – some tiny, some castle-like – community areas and associated buildings, a public square, a mosque, Muslim and Jewish cemeteries and a caravanserai.

According to UNESCO ‘it is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques’. However, the use of natural materials means that buildings and structures need constant maintenance or risk being destroyed through exposure to the elements.

Aït Ben Haddou today

There's a sense of stepping back in time when visiting Ait Ben-Haddou. The citadel is free of tourists and feels like another world.

Families still live in the village, although conservation efforts are ongoing. The walled village is free to enter, although some of the kasbahs charge a modest entry fee of ten dirhams – about 75p/$1 – to help with maintenance. For the best views, try to go at sunrise or sunset.

Movies that were filmed at Aït Ben Haddou

It's no surprise that Ait Ben-Haddou is a popular filming location, having been used in

  • Gladiator

  • Jewel of the Nile

  • Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

  • Lawrence of Arabia, among others

Some portions of the historic site are modern re-creations built for film sets that were made to blend in with the ancient kasbah.

The towering hill just outside the old city was built for the 2000 film Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe.

The site is just 30km away from Morocco's film capital, Ouarzazate, home to Atlas Studios and CLA Studios.

Photo Gallery: Aït Ben Haddou, Morocco

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