• Keywords: Morocco, Cultural Landscape, Ait-Ben-Haddou, earthen architecture, berber culture, Orzazate province, Draa river.

1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES

1.1 National and International Classification Lists

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is in the World Heritage List of UNESCO since 1987, riteria: (iv)(v) and ref: 444. It is also classified in the Inventory of Earthen architecture (UNESCO, 2012).

  • World heritage list of UNESCO
  • Others

1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology

Organically evolved landscapes
Relict (or fossil) landscape

1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med

Description

The ksar, 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, in Ouarzazate province, is a striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco. Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate, the site of Aït-Ben-Haddou is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley. The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. 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. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century. Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer. The Ksar of Ait- Ben-Haddou is a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco. The fortified village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in category: cultural. Med-O-Med has considered the site as a hole with its natural environment and palm groves. In this sense, Aït-Ben-Haddou shows an unique sample of interaction between human being and nature, composing a living continuing landscape illustrated by especific agricultural and irrigation systems in arid landscape. So, considering this region as a result of “the combined works of nature and of man”, Med-O-Med resolves to value this site as a Continuing Cultural Landscape.

2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY

  • Current denomination Aït-Ben-Haddou (Berber: Ath Benhadu, Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎).
  • Current denomination Aït-Ben-Haddou (Berber: Ath Benhadu, Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎).
  • Original denomination Aït-Ben-Haddou (Berber: Ath Benhadu, Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎).
  • Popular denomination Aït-Ben-Haddou (Berber: Ath Benhadu, Arabic: آيت بن حدّو‎).
  • Address: Ourzatate province, High Atlas, Southern-central Morocco.
  • Geographical coordinates: N31 2 49.992 W7 7 44.004
  • Area, boundaries and surroundings: Ouarzazate (The door of the desert, capital of Ourzazate province), is at an elevation of 1,160 metres (3,810 ft) in the Souss-Massa-Drâa of the High Atlas Mountains. To the south of the town is the desert. Aït-Ben-Haddou is 30 km north-west of Ouarzazate. The UNESCO property covers 3.03 ha, and the buffer zone 16 ha.
  • Access and transport facilities: By car or bus from Ourzazate, Marrakesh or other cities.
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AIT-BEN-HADDOU CULTURAL LANDSCAPE (MOROCCO)

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AIT-BEN-HADDOU CULTURAL LANDSCAPE (MOROCCO) 31.047220, -71.288900 AIT-BEN-HADDOU CULTURAL LANDSCAPE (MOROCCO) (Directions)

3. LEGAL ISSUES

Property regime
  • Public
  • Owner: Moroccan Government.
  • Body responsible for the maintenance: Moroccan Government.
  • Public or private organizations working in the site: 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. The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou currently has a five-year management plan (2007-2012). This management plan is the result of two years of reflection and workshops involving all the persons and institutions concerned with the future of the site, in particular the local populations. The recommendations of this plan are being implemented. Furthermore, two management committees have been established (a local committee and a national one) in which all the parties are represented and cooperate in decision-making. As well as managing the property, CERKAS ensures coordination in the implementation of this management plan.

4. HISTORY

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.

5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION

5.1. Natural heritage

  • Heritage: Urban
  • Geography: High Mountain
  • Site topography: Natural
  • Geological and Geographical characteristics: During the Mesozoic Era (before ~65 My) there was a widespread extension of the Earth's crust that rifted and separated the continents. This extension was responsible for the formation of many thick intracontinental sedimentary basins including the present Atlas. Most of the rocks forming the surface of the present High Atlas were deposited under the ocean at that time. In the Tertiary Period (~65 million to ~1.8 million years ago), the mountain chains that today comprise the Atlas were uplifted as the land masses of Europe and Africa collided at the southern end of the Iberian peninsula. Such convergent tectonic boundaries occur where two plates slide towards each other forming a subduction zone (if one plate moves underneath the other) and/or a continental collision (when the two plates contain continental crust). In the case of the Africa-Europe collision, it is clear that tectonic convergence is partially responsible for the formation of the High Atlas, as well as for the closure of the Strait of Gibraltar and the formation of the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Water resources:
  • Public
The Draa is Morocco's longest river (1100 km). It is formed by the confluence of the Dadès River and Imini River. It flows from the High Atlas mountains south-(east) ward to Tagounit and from Tagounit mostly westwards to the Atlantic Ocean somewhat north of Tan-Tan. Most of the year the part of the Draa after Tagounit falls dry. The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou stands on a small hill on the left bank of the Ounila River, dominating the valley. In the area the water runs in some places, forming clear basins.
Vegetation:

Cedar, juniper, pine, and oak forests cover approximately one-third of this eco-region. At high altitudes, junipers dominate the landscape. The key species is Juniperus thurifera. Even higher, the forests eventually give way to alpine meadows, pseudo-steppe vegetation, and finally scree slopes where purple cushion plants bloom. River valleys wind through the landscape, their rich, moist soil supporting willows, poplars, oaks, hawthorns, and a carpet of oleander).

Land uses and economical activities:
Agriculture. Tourism.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:
The area is mainly inhabited by Berber people, who live in small villages and cultivate the high plains of Ourika Valley. The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is surrounded by palm groves.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:

The High Atlas in central Morocco rises in the west at the Atlantic coast and stretches in an eastern direction to the Moroccan-Algerian border. At the Atlantic and to the southwest the range drops abruptly and makes an impressive transition to the coast and the Anti-Atlas range. To the north, in the direction of Marrakech, the range descends less abruptly. On the heights of Ouarzazate the massif is cut through by the Draa valley which opens southward. Here, water runs in some places, forming clear basins. It is mainly inhabited by Berber people, who live in small villages and cultivate the high plains of Ourika Valley. The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, a natural gateway to the desert. Ksar (plural Ksour) is the term used for a fortified tribal village, and Ait-Ben-Haddou is a prime example of one of these villages, dating from the 17th century and built entirely of local organic materials, with a rich red mud plaster. The Ksar has a high defensive earthen wall with angle towers and baffle gate, surrounding a remarkable ensemble of dwellings, with narrow alleys climbing the hillside. Some of the homes of the wealthy traders are grand multi-storey mud-built structures (known as kasbahs) with quite elaborate decorative motifs and angular corner towers resembling small castles. On the top of the hill there is large fortified granary, or agadir.

5.2. Cultural Heritage

A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general

Architectonical elements /Sculptures:

Aït-Ben-Haddou is an outstanding example of a southern Moroccan ksar illustrating the main types of construction to be observed in the valleys of Dra, Todgha, Dades and Sous. The earthen constructions of southern Morocco are rightly celebrated, for they represent a particular family of pre-Saharan architecture, which is common to all countries of the Great Maghreb, Mauritania and Libya. It is not certain that the introduction of these striking constructions dates back to Islamization and to the foundation of Sijilmassa in 757, but it is probable (although the oldest testimonies do not appear to be from before the 17th century) that their structure and technique were propagated from a very early time in Djebel and in the valleys of the south. The typology of this traditional habitat is extremely diversified. Large houses, called tighremt in Berber and dar or kasba in Arabic, bring together, around a central rectangular courtyard, four tall fortified wings, topped by angle towers. In some cases they allow entrance to lower connected houses situated around a second courtyard which has an enceinte. The kasba of southern Morocco is the family unit of the wealthy classes and has varied forms and multiple functions. For the most part, they are country houses, the ground floor is used for agricultural purposes and the upper floors serve as living quarters in winter (upper portion) and summer (lower portion). Adjoining houses are reserved for agricultural workers, as in the Skura Oasis. The kasba can, however, also be a veritable palace-fortress, the seat of local power, as in the ancient region of Glaua, in Taurirt and in Teluet. It then takes on the dimensions of a small village. In contrast to the kasba, the family unit is the ksar (plural ksour), which is mainly a collective grouping. Inside the defensive walls, which are reinforced by angle towers each with a zigzag-shaped gate, houses crowd together. Some are modest, others resemble small urban castles with their high angle towers whose upper portion presents decorative motifs in clay brick. But there are also buildings and community areas: collective sheep pens and stables, lofts and silos, market place, meeting room for the assembly of family chiefs, mosque, madrasas, etc. Ait-Ben-Haddou is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan construction techniques (ramming mass worked into panel brick and bull header, ordinary moulded earth, clay brick, etc.) as well as a striking miniature of the architectural typology of southern Morocco. An astonishing loft-fortress overlooks the mountain against which the ksar is located. The lofts (agadir or ighram) are not uncommon in Morocco, but their defensive character is not always as evident as in the present case by the choice of a site on high and a fortification system linking the loft with the village, conceived as the last bastion of resistance in the event of a siege. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer.

In the case of gardens: original and current style:
It is not the case.
B) Related to ancient remains

  • Historical routes:

    The site was 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.

  • Traces in the environment of human activity: Agriculture. Earthen architecture.
  • Traditional productive, transportation or storage apparatus persistence: On the top of the hill there is large fortified granary, or agadir.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values

  • Population, ethnic groups: The town is chiefly inhabited by Berbers, who constructed many of the prominent kasbahs and buildings for which the area is known.
  • Languages and dialects: Berber dialects. Moroccan Arabic French.
  • Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: Berber traditions and rules.

5.3. Quality

Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:
It is a privileged site to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:

The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer.

6. VALUES

Tangible

  • Aesthetic
  • Architectonical
  • Living heritage
The main tangible values of "Ait-Ben-Haddou Cultural Landscape" are: -Aesthetic: The magnificence of the High Atlas, the Draa river, together with the palm groves and ancient ksars compose a beatiful landscape with high aesthetical values. -Architectonical/Living heritage: Ksar (plural Ksour) is the term used for a fortified tribal village, and Ait-Ben-Haddou is a prime example of one of these villages, dating from the 17th century and built entirely of local organic materials, with a rich red mud plaster. Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer. The Ksar of Ait- Ben-Haddou is a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco.

Intangible

  • Historical
The main intangible values of "Ait-Ben-Haddou Cultural Landscape" are: -Historical: The site was 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. -Social significance: Ait-Ben-Haddou and the earthen aarchitecture enjoy a unique cultural heritage and a society rich in berber customs and traditions with social significance. The living heritage is composed of practices that are the result of slow, patient adaptation to the hostility of the environment and the scarcity of its resources.
Authenticity:
In comparison to other ksour of the region, the Ksar 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.
Universality:
Med-O-Med agrees to UNESCO criteria (World Heritage List, 1987): iv) The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is an eminent example of a ksar in southern Morocco illustrating the main types of earthen constructions that may be observed dating from the 17th century in the valleys of Dra, Todgha, Dadès and Souss. v) The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou illustrates the traditional earthen habitat, representing the culture of southern Morocco, which has become vulnerable as a result of irreversible socio-economic and cultural changes.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:
-The traditional earthen architecture. -The agricultural style of the palm groves and other crops of the village. -The berber culture: rites, customs etc, associated to the territory.

7. ENCLOSURES

Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):

Ait-Ben-Haddou Cultural Landscape is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Morocco which is included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.

Bibliography:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444/video http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/21/ http://whc.unesco.org/uploads/activities/documents/activity-21-20.pdf http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444/multiple=1&unique_number=515 http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4463 http://whc.unesco.org/venice2002 http://www.africanworldheritagesites.org/cultural-places/trans-sahara-trading-routes/ksar-of-ait-ben-haddou.html http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/aitbenhaddou.html -Regato, P. et al. (2008). Mediterranean Mountains in a Changing World: Guidelines for developing action plans. Malaga, Spain: IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation. xii+88 pp. -UNESCO. (2001). Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Committee. 25 session. Helsinki, Finland. -UNESCO. (2002). Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. Associated Workshops, World Heritage. Ferrara , Italy. -UNESCO (2012). Inventory of Earthen archetecture. World Heritage Earthen Architecture Programme.

Practical Information:
Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and several films have been shot there, including: Sodom And Gomorrah (1963) The Man Who Would Be King (film) (1975) The Message (1976) Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Time Bandits (1981) Marco Polo (1982) The Jewel of the Nile (1985) The Living Daylights (1987) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) The Sheltering Sky (1990) Kundun (1997) The Mummy (1999) Gladiator (2000) Alexander (2004) Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Babel (2006) Prince of Persia (2010) Also used in parts of the TV series Game of Thrones.

Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.