About Ait Benhaddou
The ksar is a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Ait-Ben-Haddou, is a representative example of the architecture of southern Morocco.
The ksar is a mainly collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together – some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick – but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. Ksar Ait Benhaddou is around 1,300 square meters. Made of red clay bricks, it has many long and narrow alleys tangling up in a unique geometric shape.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 site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass.
All the structures comprising the ksar are located within the boundaries of the property and the buffer zone protects its environment. The earthen buildings are very vulnerable due to lack of maintenance and regular repair resulting from the abandonment of the ksar by its inhabitants. The CERKAS (Centre for the conservation and rehabilitation of the architectural heritage of atlas and sub-atlas zones) monitors, with difficulty, respect for the visual integrity of the property.
In comparison to other ksour of the region, the Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Haddou has preserved its architectural authenticity with regard to configuration and materials. 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.The large houses in the lower part of the village, with well conserved decorative motifs, are regularly maintained. The construction materials used still remain earth and wood. The inclination to introduce cement has so far been unsuccessful, thanks to the continued monitoring of the «Comité de contrôle des infractions» (Rural Community, Town Planning Division, Urban Agency, CERKAS). Only a few lintels and reinforced concrete escaped its vigilance, but they have been hidden by earthen rendering. Particular attention is also paid to doors and windows giving on to the lanes, to ensure that the wood is not replaced by metal. Protection measures essentially relate to the different laws for the listing of historic monuments and sites, in particular the Law 22-80 concerning Moroccan heritage.
According to historians, the construction of the Ksar on a hill near a river was a strategic choice. First, it was for security reasons as the river and surrounding mountains created a natural fortress around the oasis. Entering and leaving the palace was possible only through two gates. Second, the closeness to the river was of good benefit for agriculture and economic influence.
Some historical sources point out that about 98 families lived in the Ksar until the 1940s. Nowadays, only five families live in Kasbah Ait Benhaddou. One of the families turned her house into a traditional coffee shop immersing visitors in natives’ lifestyles. In 1987, the UNESCO designated Ait Benhaddou Ksar as a world heritage