The highlight of the morning our of Ourzazate and into Marrakesh was the fortified ksar on the hill Ait Ben Haddou, also a UNESCO world heritage site. But first, we made two stops – one at the Kasbah of Taourirt and another quick stop at Atlas Studios, where many movies have been filmed.
Here is the Taourirt Kasbah.
It was in remarkably good condition and we took a 30 minute guided tour with a local guide, exploring all of its nooks and crannies. It was built in the 19th century and with the help of UNESCO was restored.
Many of the mosaic work and original decoration was still in tact.
At the end of the tour, we bought a few small pieces of watercolor paintings from an artist renting space in the kasbah gift shop. They were desert pieces of the Sahara and the Kasbah.
After the kasbah, we continued on to Ait Ben Haddou.
We had a quick stop at Atlas Studios, the movie studio used for sets in many of the famous Hollywood movies. Fernando, part of the Mexican family we were traveling with, was a film-maker living in Los Angeles and had arranged a private tour for his small group of the studio. We picked them up after they finished their tour and we all enjoyed taking some pictures of the outside.
The difference between a ksar and a kasbah, we found out, is that a ksar is multiple tribes living within one fortress/castle/kasbah, where as a kasbah is typically one tribe or family living within.
Ait Ben Haddou was special, and we were thrilled to find out that it was where Game of Thrones filmed Daenarys while in Yunkai. It was also used to film The Mummy and Gladiator, back in the heyday of Ourzazate.
Even though we were exhausted (now both sick) and grumpy this morning, seeing Ait Ben Haddou on the approach by the bus instantly lifted our spirits.
The Ksar was founded in the 8th century by Ben-Haddou, whose tomb is said to lie somewhere behind the city. But, the current city (that we toured) had structures that did not date past the 17th century – city built on city. The walls were mud brick, and after fording a stream to approach the village, M’hamed gave us a small demonstration of how the city was built.
Here were a few local inhabitants of Ait Ben Haddou:
The climb to the top looked daunting but actually wasn’t. M’hamed was very good about giving us all time to enjoy each level, catch our breaths (for those that didn’t live in Denver!), and take pictures.
Here’s a few of my best snaps from Ait Ben Haddou, looking out to the mountains at multiple levels:
The best shot came at the very end, when I was able to contrast the old city of Ait Ben Haddou with the modern marketplace at its base.
Back on the bus, we promptly passed out until we arrived in Marrakesh – we were both sick and exhausted, but Ait Ben Haddou was worth it!