While going through the Ounila valley, we stoped at Aït Ben Haddou, which name means “Where the son of Haddou lives”. The village – a douar in Arab – is a ksar, gathering of several kasbah around a hill on top of which thrones a agadir, a fortified collective barn. Kasbah are beautiful family houses, made of raw red earth. Depending on the rain’s frequency, owners must pay for maintenance of the kasbah each year or two years. The walls are thick and this material costs a lot more than cement, but it keeps the inside 15°cooler.
Our guide was really precise on the meaning of Berber words and willing to teach us as much as we could learn. He is from Aït Ben Haddou and he invited us to his family’s kasbah. In the living room, there is a picture of Russel Crowe in Gladiator. People loved him when came for the movie’s shooting, since he was interested in them and curious about the local culture. He even learned some Arabic’s basics!
The ksar was initiated centuries ago by nomad families from various religions that regrouped to protect their resources. Giving away the nomad’s traditions and way of life permited them to live in wealth. In this valley, the salty river dries during summer, letting people recover the salt to sell it at a good price, or exchange it with other rare resources. Nowadays it means less, but salt used to be very expensive, and allowed Aït Ben Haddou’s unhabitants to take part in the regional trade.
Many movies where shot at its door or in its streets. The medieval door on the picture below is not of any defensive use, but was built for Lawrence d’Arabie, in 1961-2. Afterward, Unesco classified Aït Ben Haddou and since then, movie producers must undo what they made up for the movies’ shooting.
You may see some solar panels on some kasbah’s rooftops: we were told they are meant to shock on pictures in order to protest… Although, a long-term project does exists concerning the solar panels in this douar (please see page 45 of the document at this link, if interested in more info). The objective seems to be more bringing Aït Ben Haddou to be energy self sufficient.