Aït Benhaddou, Morocco
A Kingdom Reaching Toward HeavenWe set off not long before sunset, from the "new" village across the river. Passing over a modern bridge, I didn't feel at first like this trek in Morocco was much different than any other. Then the terrain changed, I had to pay more attention to where I walked, we began to pass open doorways with lives in progress barely visible far back in the dark spaces. I saw a crude sign with faded, tape-covered photographs advertising that this was the place in which 'Gladiator' and 'Kingdom of Heaven' had been filmed.
As we climbed further, passed more houses, took in more of the stamped details in the mud walls -- I finally understood. It's protected by UNESCO and for good reason. There are probably thousands of kasbahs and ksars in the country of Morocco but the devil is in the details at Aït Benhaddou; walls, patterns, faces of the 10 families who remain, the sound of a drum beating faintly from down a passage.
Take time to come early enough in the day that you can shop and bargain with the locals who still reside on the hill inside the old ksar. Leave enough time to hike to the very summit, where the watchtower is, to view the sun setting over the entire valley. Old caravan roads snake through the landscape intertwined with the gleam of the river; it's a serene space that feels a bit worshipful. To what I don't know, perhaps to the confluence of nature and man's creation. After all, nature is trying to bury Aït Benhaddou but man will not be driven away.