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Ait Ben Haddou

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Ait Ben Haddou

Ksar

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.

 

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Kasba

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.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC