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Ait Ben Haddou

April 13, 2007

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Another World Heritage Site and this marvel of Moroccan architecture appears to be older than Fez by centuries or millennia, according to a Unesco report I read. It is a great example of the fortified cities or Ksar of this area and very beautiful. One instantly understands why over twenty movies were shot on location here like Lawrence of Arabia, The Sheltering Sky, Gladiators and Alexander.

There are still ten families living here, although most of the village has moved to the other side of the Quarzazate river. Like all of the kasbahs in this area it is made out of stone, rammed earth, adobe brick and mud plaster which is a perfect material for this climate to shelter from the endless sun and absorb the solar heat to help warm the cool nights. They were all on the ancient camel caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakech.

Ait Ben Haddou is only three kilometers away from Kasbah Ellouze, so we stopped to tour it after touring the Kasbah next door and on our way to Marrakech. They call it a ksar which is translated into English as castle. It is quite a sight to see as you pass a row of bursting-full, colorful, telephone booth sized shops on a curvy hill down to the river. Interestingly, nearby Skoura has an annual harvest of 4000 tons of roses, which seems curious in this landscape.

Mozart never saw a gift shop that she did not like, but we managed to get past them after a little looking and picture taking. Crossing the river over big rocks, dodging a gaggle of djellaba dressed girls, added to the excitement along with the camels giving a family a ride. This area is close enough (about two hours) to be a day trip from Marrakech so can get quite crowded sometimes, I hear, but not many were there when we were.

The views from the top were magnificent and the close up details in the towers were impressive. Most of the people working there, just living their lives, were open to gathering dirham (the money of Morocco) change in exchange for a picture. We did not mind adding to the local economy, which clearly could use it and found the woman working on the wool a classic sight that has been repeated for centuries.

We did buy our second Fatima necklace there (which also broke before we left Morocco) when we returned, but had an interesting incident amongst these stores.  After being offered tea with one interesting shop owner, we made our way back to a specific store that we had stopped at on the way down. Apparently another man noticed that we were taking Mozart for a particular item and while we picked it up in an empty store waiting for the owner to return, he slipped in and pretended to be the owner! We were not fooled because we remembered the owner and the impostor disappeared quickly in the confusion.

We did not run into too many of these kinds of things in Morocco, but it is always good to stay aware when traveling as tourists make such great targets. Our Grand Taxi driver (a new one for this ride) was happily waiting for us when we returned. They are very happy to stop where ever one wants for pictures, touring or for food or what ever. Alas, this one did not have any seat belts either, even tho we tried hard to order one with them as I knew the upcoming drive would be the most dangerous (and most beautiful) one yet.

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