Saturday, April 11

Morocco VIII: What's A Ksar and Why?

February 13, 2020
As always, click upon any image to enlarge it

Plate 64

The highway toward Marakesh from Ouarzazate winds through craggy southern slopes of the  High Atlas mountains cut deeply by the Ounila river.

Plate 65

A half hour into that Valley the town of Ben Haddous sits across the river from ruins of the Ksar Ait Ben Haddous. Every North African town has a mud and straw kasbah. This one, nestled against the mountain slopes, is among the most impressive. 

Plate 66


Built around one of the steeply abrupt rocky hills that dot these vallies, Ben-Haddous's surrounded by an array of farms, mountains, and rivers. It’s believed that the town, as opposed to the Ksar, was established in 757 and that its founder, Ben-Haddous, still lies buried in his tomb behind this  decaying walled city. 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.


Plate 67


The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddous is an ighrem (fortified village) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. The word ‘Ksar’ refers to a large group of close-together kasbas (homes) and barns behind defensive city walls which are reinforced by corner angle towers and pierced by two baffle gates.


Plate 68


Unlike the town, but like Ouarzazate’s seraglio (See Morocco VI), the oldest ksar constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century. However 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 

Plate 69

Ksar Ait Ben Haddous 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. Some structures are modest, others resemble small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick - but there are also community areas which include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, a caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali.

Plate 70


Plate 71

The earthen buildings are very vulnerable due to lack of maintenance and regular repair resulting from the abandonment of the ksar by its inhabitants.


Plate 72


Plate 73

About 98 families lived in the Ksar until the 1940s. Nowadays, only five still live. there, most moved to modern structures in the bustling town across the river. The large houses in the lower part of the ksar however, with well conserved decorative motifs, are regularly maintained. Workers return daily however to shops that serve the entire area’s lively-hood: tourism and the movie makers from Oouarzazate.

Plate 74


Plate 76


The architectural style has adapted to the climatic conditions all in harmony with natural and social environment configurations.  The inclination during restoration to introduce cement has so far been unsuccessful. Only a few lintels and reinforced concrete have escaped vigilance, but they have been hidden by earthen rendering.

Plate 77
Note the graffiti on the front of this shop. This was a set for the movie Gladiato


Plate 78

Scholars conclude that Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddous represents the Berber culture of southern Morocco, which itself has become vulnerable as a result of irreversible socio-economic and cultural changes.

Plate 79


Plate 80
Up next - Morocco IX: Marakesh 

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