Tag Archive: Sahara desert

Ait-Ben-Haddou – Man-Made Wonder – Morocco – Africa

Ait Ben Haddou - Morocco, Africa
Mansa Musa - Sultan of Mali

Mansa Musa – Sultan of Mali

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

Location: Ouarzazate Province, Morocco, along an ancient trade-route between Marrakesh, and the southern Sahara desert.

Google Maps: Find It

Ait-Ben-Haddou is by far the best preserved example of a historic fortified town (Ksar) in southern Morocco. Located between the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, and the Sahara Desert, the village is made largely of mud, reinforced by wood. A complex of walls, towers, and other communal and private structures, the village is highly susceptible to weathering, and requires continued maintenance even in Morocco’s dry climate. While much of the architecture in Ait-Ben-Haddou dates back only to the 17th century, it typifies how communities built around the trans-Saharan caravan trade developed. And it offers a window into the dangerous nature of such trade and how communities sought to protect themselves from thieves and opportunistic nomadic tribesmen.

It did not help matters, that much of the north bound trans-Saharan trade centered around gold, which was coming out of mines in what is now Mali, Nigeria, and Niger. In fact it has been speculated, that at one point, so much gold was being mined from West Africa, and specifically the Mali Empire, that it produced the richest man who has ever lived – Mansa Musa (1280-1337). Even taking inflation into account, he easily beats Jeff Bezos by more than $400 billion.

Today, with much of the overland camel trade lost to history,  Ait-Ben-Haddou is more of a tourist attraction, than a functioning village (although a few families do remain). But it preserves the mystique of a bygone era, which draws thousands to its fortified walls annually.

Youtube: 4K Tour of Ait-Ben Haddou

Suggested Reading:

Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey by Gary Paul Nabhan
The Golden Trade of the Moors: West African Kingdoms in the Fourteenth Century by E. W. Bovill