Ait Benhaddou & Ouarzazate
Day trip begins: On the road to Ait Benhaddou
A day trip from Marrakech to Ait benhaddou is a wonderful plan to spend the day out of the big city. The trip starts at 08:00 when your driver knocks on the door of the riad you’re staying in. Usually the alleys are too small for the car to reach the depths of the Medina. Once you’re in the car, you can put on music of your choice with a USB thumb or an AUX cord, or just enjoy the random playlists specific to each driver. After a dozen of kilometers, as you start to go up at the beginning of the mountain chain, you start to notice a couple of berber villages perched in the mountains in an astonishing camouflage making them one with nature. villagers are usually self-sufficient, they rely on agriculture and livestock, and maybe sell a sheep or a goat at the weekly market to buy tea, sugar, clothes and pay the electricity bills. The land provides wheat, a variety of vegetables, fruits and oils. The livestock provides meat. People consume only sick or weak animals that will not survive unless it is a really special occasion, a dear guest or a religious ceremony. A little stop at one of the many terraces to stretch your legs and maybe grab a cup of coffe to fully wake up, then continue the road crossing the Tizi n Tichka Pass (2160m) of the High Atlas to reach the ancient village of Ait Benhaddou. You will probably hear the name “Ksar” often, it has two meanings in Morocco; 1: A great and luxurious palace, or an assembly of Kasbahs usually surrounded by a protective wall which is the case here in Ksar Ait Benhaddou. The fortified village was declared amongst Morocco’s eight world heritage sites by the Unesco and it is well preserved. The ksar is situated in the Ounila valley. Aït Benhaddou Was a station for the caravanes in old times, transporting gold, silver, salt, spices and slaves from the depths of the African Sahara across Morocco and to Europe. The merchants either exchange their goods here and return, or pause and rest before continuing their trip to Marrakech. The salty mines are still active in the area and you could notice salt on the sides of the ounila river before reaching the village.
Ait Benhaddou: at the Ksar
Ait Benhaddou is even more famous for being a backdrop for many hollywood movies, scenes of the mighty Russel Crowe playing the Gladiator were shot in the village, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy also used the Ksar as a background for many scenes. Welles used it as a location for Sodome And Gomorrah, and for Jesus of Nazareth. The scene where Denerys Targarian was entering the Sand village (with two pyramids at the top) was also shot at the doors of Ait Benhaddou, once there, you will get the chance to see a couple of pictures of the live shootings that took place there. And at the top of the hill, you will appreciate a wonderful view of the whole valley. You will spend two hours in Ait Benhaddou, one for exploring the village and sites, and an hour to enjoy a good meal on a terrace with clear views of the Kasbahs. After leaving Ait Benhaddou, We will head to Ouarzazate, a city at 30 km from the site of Ait Benhaddou and equally famous in the film making industry as there are two major studios in the city and a huge museum of the cinematographic art. The name “Ouarzazate” is a berber combination of two words, meaning noiseless and peaceful.
The day trip continues...Off to Ouarzazate
The first attraction worth visiting the Kasbah of Taourirte, a beautiful and well preserved construction that holds many heroic stories and ancient history, the entrance fee is 20 dh per person and you have the option pay a local guide to get some added value and the stories the largest Kasbah of Morocco and home to former Pacha Glaoui, ruler of the region has to tell. The second attraction in Ouarzazate is the cinematographic arts museum, situated just in front the previous Kasbah, is a massive collection of tools, costumes, cameras, VFX technics and chambers used in the filming of movies. The entrance fee to the museum is 30dh per person, and it is also possible to take a local guide to explain the site. After the museum, we will head back to the entrance of the city, where the Atlas Studio site lays, this is where actual film making happens, but the museum is more interesting, because the studio is usually empty outside shooting times, and forbidden during the shooting. The trip comes to end here and you take the road back to Marrakech to arrive around sunset. The driver will drop you off at your hotel or any place of your choice in the city.