The first thing you hear from the guides on arrival at AÏT BENHADDOU, 190km from Marrakesh and just 34km from Ouarzazate, is a list of its film credits. Though this is a feature of much of the Moroccan south, the Benhaddou ksar has a definite edge over the competition. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here, of course; Orson Welles used it as a location for Sodom and Gomorrah; and for Jesus of Nazareth the whole lower part of the village was rebuilt. In recent years, more controlled restoration has been carried out under UNESCO auspices, while film crews have been involved in some “re-modelling”.
With its souvenir shops and constant stream of tour groups, Aït Benhaddou is not really the place to catch a glimpse of fading ksar life, but it is one of the most spectacular sights of the Atlas, piled upon a low hillock above a shallow, reed-strewn river. Its buildings are among the most elaborately decorated and best preserved in the south; they are less fortified than is usually the case along the Drâa or the Dadès, but, towered and crenellated, and with high, sheer walls of dark red pisé, they must have been near impregnable in this remote, hillside site.