Aït BenhaddouMOROCCAN KSAR
SCHEMES AND BATTLES GALORE HAVE UNFOLDED HERE IN AN IMPRESSIVE ROLL CALL OF FILMS, INCLUDING GLADIATOR, BABEL, SON OF GOD, ALEXANDER, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Aït Benhaddou is a fortified town, a ‘ksar’, found along the whipping twists of a route on the edge of the Atlas Mountains between the Sahara and Marrakesh, as they are known in Morocco today. Gazing out from its hilltop seat, this ancient town tucks its crowds of earthen architecture – typical of Southern Morocco – behind defensive walls alongside the Ounila River. Casting angular shadows over one another, the fortress-like houses and kasbahs strike a powerful contrast against the desert dunes behind that flow in perfect, brushstroke sweeps. Lush green palms rise in plucky flourishes around the walls of this majestically photogenic settlement.
The town has been a UNESO World Heritage Site since 1987 and its earliest constructions may have been built as far back as 757, although these dates are debated and the oldest testimonies don’t go back further than the 17th century. Featuring pre-Saharan building techniques, like moulded earth and clay brick, Aït Benhaddou is Moroccan history in motion. Today, just eight families still live within the ksar, with most of the town’s inhabitants now living in a modernised village nearby.
Inspiration rises like a heat haze from Aït Benhaddou’s mazelike streets. It may have a distinctive character, but this ksar has also shown a chameleon ability to take on myriad identities in the hands of numerous movie directors. Its towering presence appears in the Academy Award-winning Gladiator, seeing Russell Crowe scowl through its squares as the unforgettable, vengeful Maximus. Schemes and battles galore have unfolded here in an impressive roll call of films, including Babel, Son of God, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven… Like Aït Benhaddou’s meandering streets, the list goes on. The town’s striking presence lends itself to the big screen with the masterful nonchalance of a place that, despite centuries of sieges and desert storms, stays standing, proud, with a regal resilience.