A village peeling apart from age on the banks of a river has been revived to a thriving Unesco World Heritage Site visited by many tourists due to its site for several well known movies, including Gladiator and a 2012 chapter of Game of Thrones. We arrive along the main street, lined with a few hotels and restaurants and hike across a bridge to the ancient walls, now lined with shops selling tourist goods. In addition to the usual offerings, several artists here sell original water colors of the exotic village scape for visitors. We are told only about 12 families now actually reside here, the rest living in more modern homes and renting out for shops their ancestral space.
We see the remains of an ancient granary on the top of the hill above the town and I don’t think we are hiking there but as we wind ourselves around the small streets, always upward, we in fact find ourselves eventually at the very top, with a panoramic view of the area. Although rain looks threatening we are spared once again from both heat and wet and enjoy the cool temperature climate. The small narrow mud-brick buildings look like they can hardly stand a hard wet period and many are in the process of repair to maintain the look of this ancient town.
Carpets are a major source of revenue here, especially for the local women, and our group does its duty at a women’s cooperative rug store, with many of us purchasing small and larger carpets.
Before we arrived here, we stopped along the way at the Amridil Kasbah, an old fortified home open to the public to display the life at the time of a wealthy landowner whose guards and muskets were available to protect the villagers in case of attack. It is one of many along the way, a route which obviously saw much marauding and conquest at one time requiring all village to have a feudal protector to survive.
Our van rides have been long but we have been stopping every 1.5 hour or so for a rest stop, coffee and toilets. The toilets in Morocco are amazingly clean, everywhere, even gas stations. Sometimes there are women collection 1-3 dirham ($0.10-0.30) for maintenance costs and then we all have to scramble for small coins. The streets are also quite clean and we see people sweeping in front of their houses. The children all ask for “bon-bons” which we were told, and are wise enough to know, is not a good practice for their dental health in an area without easy access to dental healthcare.
The steep stairs in Ait Ben Haddou were difficult for some and we wonder how the aging population is managing with hardly a flat place to call home. Onwards to Marrakech.