Monday, August 8, 2016


Ait Ben Haddou is:
     - a really big fortified city made of mud bricks
     - built on the southern slopes of the High Atlas Mountains
     - a caravan stop between Sahara and Marrakech
     - a collection of six kasbahs and 50 palaces
     - a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987
A ksar is a fortified village
     - home to several families who still live there although everyone else has
       moved to modern accommodations in a nearby town
     - a film site for twenty movies (mostly as a replacement for Jerusalem),
          * The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
          * Marco Polo Mini-series (1982)
          * The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
          * The Mummy (1999)
          * Gladiator (2000)
          * Prince of Persia (2010)
     - located 32 miles from the city of Ouarzazate in the middle of Morocco

Local legend has it that Ait Ben Haddou was founded in 757 AD by Ben Haddou, who is supposed to be entombed somewhere behind the city, but none of the structures date prior to the 17th century.

And who was Ben Haddou? I have no idea. I couldn't find any info on the mystery man.

The old city is accessed by a long bridge that crosses a wide wadi that is usually dry . . .

. . . but which had a bit of flowing water the day we were there:

Looking up from the bridge, Ait Ben Haddou seems to disappear into the dirt from which it was made:

However, look carefully, and you'll see the stone walls that line the path:

True to our previous experiences at tourist sites in Morocco, a few steps in took us right to the first shopping experience:

The sign on the building below (written in French) says something about a lounge and pasty and a panoramic view of the kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou:

. . . but the most important part is those two letters at the bottom:

The view from that point shows some of the restored rooftops and the town across the wadi that doesn't look a whole lot different from the much older Ait Ben Haddou:

Off in the distance in another direction is this gigantic hump of earth, a kind of desert mountain erupting from the mostly flat terrain:

We made our way up the dusty path to the twin towers on the summit. This place would be treacherous in the rain.

It was warm, and by the time we got to the top, we were worn out.

Bob was disappointed by Ait Ben Haddou, coming with expectations of something grander, but I was quite taken by the empty loneliness at the top, the muddle of mysterious dirt block buildings that had survived the harsh weather for centuries, and the view of the unforgiving desert below and dramatic mountains behind.

This is a place made for a wild game of hide-and-seek:
. . . or maybe for making movies.

After taking our photos, we headed back down, noting the "Gladiator" sign painted on the side of one of the buildings:

Is this the Gladiator? Nope. It's a man playing a rebab, a bowed string instrument that dates back to at least the 8th century--predating the violin. It cost a handful of change to take his picture (much cheaper than tickets to see Gladiator in the theater). I wish I had thought to record the surprisingly pleasant sound of his music:

Still looking for the Gladiator. Could he be hiding in here?

Is that him?

Aha! We found him! Or at least, we found a man who was an extra in Gladiator when it was filmed at Ait Ben Haddou, and whose shop/home was used for a prison scene in the movie. He also happens to be one of the few people who actually lives in one of the buildings at Ait Ben Haddou. He called his wife out from one of the rooms behind his shop where she was cooking dinner, and then he ushered us into the room featured in the movie for a (paid) photo op:
It was a confusing jumble of past and present, a weird bit of anachronistic time travel.

He was such a nice guy, and he was so excited to have someone in his shop, so we felt compelled to buy something from him. Bob picked out this small original watercolor of three camels:

We finally escaped Mr.-I-Was-an-Extra-in-Gladiator and made our way out of the snarl of alleys:

. . . and returned to a more familiar era:


  1. As you alluded to, the most hyped and biggest disappointment of our trip to Morocco. If it had been empty of hawkers I could have appreciated it more. Some true emptiness would have been nice.

  2. This looks like a place of many salesmen and no tourists. It does have a certain charm.