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Ait Benhaddou: The Magnificent Kasbah That Inspired Game of Thrones

Jul 21

Welcome to Ait Benhaddou, a fortified city nestled in Morocco's foothills of the Atlas Mountains. This magnificent kasbah has captivated the hearts of many, including the creators of the hit TV series Game of Thrones. It's captivating beauty and rich history have made it the perfect backdrop for numerous scenes in the show.

Join us as we explore the fascinating connections between Ait Benhaddou and the world of Game of Thrones and delve into the allure of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discover the ancient tales this kasbah tells, and immerse yourself in the magic of a place that inspired the epic fantasy world of Westeros.



The historical significance of Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou is an ancient fortified city in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. It holds great historical and cultural significance, making it a popular tourist destination. The Kasbah, a traditional Moroccan fortress, was built in the 17th century and served as a trading post on the caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakech.

Throughout its history, Ait Benhaddou has been a strategic location for trade and defence. It protected travellers and merchants passing through the area and offered a safe haven during times of conflict. The city's unique architecture, with its earthen clay construction and defensive walls, reflect its historical significance and the Berber culture.

Recognizing its cultural value, Ait Benhaddou has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The kasbah showcases traditional Moroccan craftsmanship and the rich history of the region.

Visiting Ait Benhaddou offers a glimpse into the past, allowing visitors to explore the intricate alleys and beautiful courtyards within the Kasbah. Its preserved state has also made it a popular filming location for movies and TV shows, including the iconic Game of Thrones series. A visit to Ait Benhaddou is a journey back in time and an opportunity to experience Morocco's rich cultural heritage.


How it became a popular filming location

With its stunning architecture and picturesque location, Ait Benhaddou has become a popular filming location over the years. Its prominence as a filming destination can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Unique Landscape: Ait Benhaddou is situated on a hill along the former caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakech. This secluded location, surrounded by beautiful landscapes, provides an ideal setting for creating various cinematic scenes.

  2. Historical Significance: The kasbah's rich history, dating back to the 17th century, adds an authentic and timeless backdrop to any film. It offers a glimpse into Moroccan culture and allows filmmakers to incorporate real-world heritage into their productions.

  3. Game of Thrones: The popularity of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" has significantly contributed to Ait Benhaddou's rise as a filming location. The kasbah served as the fictional city of Yunkai and Astapor in the show, attracting fans worldwide.

  4. Proximity to Marrakech: Ait Benhaddou is just a few hours' drives from Marrakech, making it easily accessible for film crews. Its proximity to the city allows for efficient production logistics and convenient transportation for cast and crew.

  5. UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ait Benhaddou's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site further highlights its cultural and historical significance, enhancing its appeal as a filming location.

Overall, its unique architecture, historical significance, and convenient location has made Ait Benhaddou a sought-after destination for filmmakers looking to bring their visions to life on the big screen.


The Architecture of Ait Benhaddou

Exploring the unique design and construction of the Kasbah

Ait Benhaddou is a kasbah located in Morocco that boasts a unique design and construction. The Kasbah comprises a collection of earthen buildings enclosed within defensive walls, creating a fortified village. Its distinct architecture blends seamlessly with the natural surroundings, making it an impressive sight.

The construction of Ait Benhaddou uses traditional techniques and materials, such as mudbrick and straw, which have been used in the region for centuries. These materials provide insulation from the harsh desert climate and contribute to its distinctive appearance. The kasbah's buildings are interconnected through a network of narrow passageways and winding staircases, creating a labyrinthine structure that adds to its allure.

What makes Ait Benhaddou truly remarkable is the way it combines artistic elements with functional design. Intricate carvings and decorations adorn the buildings' façades, showcasing the skill and craftsmanship of the local artisans. The geometric patterns and motifs found throughout the kasbah reflect the area's cultural heritage and add a touch of elegance to the architecture.

Ait Benhaddou's unique design and construction have earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This designation highlights its cultural and historical significance and ensures its preservation for future generations.

Visitors to Ait Benhaddou can immerse themselves in the kasbah's rich history and marvel at its intricate design and construction. Exploring its narrow streets and climbing to the top of its elevated vantage points offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, making it a must-visit destination for anyone travelling to Morocco.

Features that make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ait Benhaddou is not only a filming location for famous movies and TV shows, but it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This designation was given to the kasbah due to its exceptional universal value and cultural significance. The features that make Ait Benhaddou a UNESCO World Heritage Site include:

  1. Unique Architectural Design: The kasbah showcases the traditional Moroccan earthen construction known as "pisé" or "rammed earth." The adobe buildings, fortified walls, and intricate mud-brick architecture exemplify the traditional Berber techniques passed down through generations.

  2. Historical Significance: Ait Benhaddou was a crucial hub along the historic caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakech. Its strategic location made it an important trading post and link between different regions, contributing to the economic and cultural exchange in the area.

  3. Cultural Heritage: The kasbah represents the rich Berber heritage and their way of life. It is a testament to the traditional social structures and communal living practices that have shaped the region for centuries.

  4. Conservation Efforts: The UNESCO designation ensures the preservation of Ait Benhaddou's unique architecture and cultural heritage. Conservation efforts are carried out to protect the site from deterioration or inappropriate development.

Visitors to Ait Benhaddou can experience the living history of the Kasbah and appreciate its outstanding universal value as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Ait Benhaddou in Game of Thrones

The specific scenes filmed in Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou has hosted several iconic scenes in film and television, including several memorable moments from Game of Thrones. One of the most notable scenes filmed in this magnificent kasbah is the "Walk of Punishment" scene in the third season of Game of Thrones, where Daenerys Targaryen frees the Unsullied slaves. The kasbah was used as the backdrop for the ancient city of Yunkai, and its narrow alleyways and imposing sandstone walls provided a perfect setting for the fictional city.

Another significant scene filmed in Ait Benhaddou is the "Astapor" scene in the same season of Game of Thrones. In this scene, Daenerys negotiates and ultimately acquires the army of Unsullied soldiers. The kasbah's unique architecture and stunning views added an air of grandeur to the portrayal of the conquering city of Astapor.

It is not just Game of Thrones that has recognized Ait Benhaddou's beauty and historical significance. The kasbah has also been featured in films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and The Mummy, among many others. It's timeless appeal and captivating atmosphere make it a popular choice for filmmakers looking to transport audiences to ancient and exotic settings.

Visitors to Ait Benhaddou can walk in the footsteps of their favourite characters and scenes, taking in the awe-inspiring surroundings and immersing themselves in the rich history and culture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


How the Kasbah was transformed into various Game of Thrones locations

Ait Benhaddou has been a captivating backdrop for many movies and TV shows, notably, Game of Thrones. The kasbah's unique design and ancient architecture made it the perfect setting for various fictional locations in the series.

One of the most iconic scenes filmed in Ait Benhaddou was the city of Yunkai in the third season of Game of Thrones. The narrow winding streets and intricate mud-brick buildings of the kasbah were transformed into the Slaver's Bay city, where Daenerys Targaryen liberates the slaves. The kasbah's medieval look and enchanting atmosphere added authenticity to the fictional world.

Ait Benhaddou was also used as the setting for the slave trader city of Astapor, where Daenerys acquires her army of Unsullied in the same season. The kasbah's grandeur and ancient feel enhanced the dramatic impact of these scenes.

By utilizing the kasbah's architectural elements, such as its towers, walls, and alleys, the Game of Thrones production team seamlessly integrated Ait Benhaddou into the fictional world of Westeros. The kasbah's picturesque surroundings and strategic positioning played a vital role in immersing viewers in the fantasy realm.

Ait Benhaddou's stunning and distinctive features made it an ideal location for Game of Thrones and helped bring the fantastical world to life. Its inclusion in the series further cemented Kasbah's reputation as one of Morocco's most iconic and visually captivating landmarks.


Other Films and TV Shows Filmed at Ait Benhaddou

The popularity of Ait Benhaddou as a filming location

Ait Benhaddou has gained immense popularity as a filming location due to its stunning beauty and unique architectural features. The kasbah's ancient and well-preserved structures have attracted numerous filmmakers, making it a sought-after destination for movie and TV productions.

One of the reasons for its popularity is its close resemblance to medieval cities, with its towering walls and narrow alleys, making it the perfect backdrop for historical and fantasy films. The kasbah's rugged and photogenic landscape, surrounded by desert and mountains, appeals to filmmakers looking for an authentic and visually striking setting.

Perhaps the most notable production filmed at Ait Benhaddou is the hit TV series Game of Thrones. The Kasbah was transformed into the fictional city of Yunkai and featured in the show's third season. Its distinctive architecture and eerie atmosphere perfectly captured the essence of the fantasy world created by author George R.R. Martin.

Apart from Game of Thrones, Ait Benhaddou has also been featured in other major films, including Lawrence of Arabia and The Mummy. Its unique combination of history, culture, and natural beauty has attracted filmmakers worldwide and continues to make it a top choice for productions seeking an exotic and picturesque location.

Visiting Ait Benhaddou allows fans of these films and TV shows to immerse themselves in the enchanting ambience of their favourite scenes and experience the rich history and culture of this remarkable kasbah.


Notable films and TV shows shot at Ait Benhaddou.

Ait Benhaddou has gained fame as a premier filming location for numerous films and TV shows, including several notable productions:

  1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - Ait Benhaddou's stunning architecture and unique layout caught the attention of director David Lean, who chose it as a backdrop for this iconic film.

  2. The Man Who Would Be King (1975) - John Huston's adventure film, based on Rudyard Kipling's story, utilized the majestic setting of Ait Benhaddou to depict the fictional city of Sikandarabad.

  3. Jewel of the Nile (1985) - This sequel to "Romancing the Stone" showcased Ait Benhaddou's picturesque Kasbah as a key location, adding to the film's exotic atmosphere.

  4. Gladiator (2000) - Director Ridley Scott chose Ait Benhaddou to portray parts of ancient Rome, including bustling marketplace scenes.

  5. Game of Thrones (2011-2019) - In Game of Thrones, Ait Benhaddou was transformed into Yunkai, the fictional city of Slaver's Bay. Several iconic scenes were shot here, making it a must-visit location for fans.

Today, Ait Benhaddou continues to attract filmmakers and has become a popular destination for film enthusiasts and tourists alike.


Visiting Ait Benhaddou

Tips for planning a visit to Ait Benhaddou

If you're planning a visit to Ait Benhaddou, here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip:

  1. Timing: The best time to visit Ait Benhaddou is spring (March to May) or fall (September to November) when the weather is pleasant, and the crowds are smaller.

  2. Getting there: Ait Benhaddou is located about 30 kilometres from the city of Ouarzazate. You can travel to Ouarzazate by bus from major cities like Marrakech or Casablanca and then hire a taxi or take a local bus to Ait Benhaddou.

  3. Exploring the Kasbah: Take your time to wander through the narrow alleyways and staircases of the Kasbah. Don't forget to climb to the highest point for a panoramic view of the surrounding area.

  4. Guided tours: Consider taking a guided tour to learn more about the history and significance of Ait Benhaddou. Local guides can provide insights and show you hidden gems within the kasbah.

  5. Photography: Ait Benhaddou is a photographer's paradise, so bring your camera and capture the stunning architecture and breathtaking views. Don't forget to respect the local customs and ask permission before taking photos of the residents.

  6. Travel essentials: Wear comfortable shoes as the kasbah involves much walking and climbing. Carry a water bottle and sunscreen, as it can get hot during the day. Also, be mindful of the traditional dress code and dress modestly out of respect for the local culture.

By following these tips, you'll have an unforgettable visit to Ait Benhaddou and experience the magic of this ancient Kasbah.


The best time to visit and how to get there

The best time to visit Ait Benhaddou

The best time to visit Ait Benhaddou is during the cooler months, from October to April. During this time, temperatures are milder, ranging from 10°C (50°F) to 25°C (77°F), making it more comfortable for exploration and sightseeing. Due to the rainy season, March and April are particularly pleasant, with vibrant greenery surrounding the Kasbah.

How to get there

Ait Benhaddou is located in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, approximately 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Ouarzazate. Here are the main ways to reach Ait Benhaddou:

  1. Fly: The closest airport is Ouarzazate Airport (OZZ), which receives domestic flights from major cities in Morocco. You can hire a taxi from the airport or take a bus to Ait Benhaddou.

  2. Drive: Ait Benhaddou is accessible by road, and many tourists choose to rent a car and drive from cities like Marrakech or Ouarzazate. The journey from Marrakech takes around 4-5 hours.

  3. Public transportation: Regular buses run between Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes and is an affordable option for travellers.

Once in Ait Benhaddou, exploring the kasbah on foot is recommended. The village's small size makes it easily walkable, allowing visitors to admire the intricate architecture and immerse themselves in its rich history.