As an unabashed Game of Thrones fan, I had been itching to photograph the earthen clay architecture of Ait Benhaddou, the famous Kasbah town along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech, which has also formed the backdrop of blockbuster greats such as Gladiator, Alexander, The Sheltering Sky and Black Hawk Down.
But even without the impressive CV, tucked away in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas mountains in Ouarzazate, the movie capital of Morocco, Ait Benhaddou is gorgeous. The russet clay houses huddle together within the defensive walls which are reinforced by corner towers, and are a striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco and days of yore. Interestingly, eight families still live within the city walls.
But first the snake man who holds court about 5km from the most famous and photographed ksar in the Ounila Valley, who makes a living posing for tourists adorned by snakes. He was most upset because I didn’t pay to photograph him. The truth is I’d left my bag on the bus otherwise I would have. That aside though, only minutes before a travelling companion had very generously lined the snake man’s Djellaba pockets with Dirhams, moved in close and handed me his iPhone to capture the encounter. My photos were basically an extension of that photo op, but the snake man unleashed a vitriolic stream of Arabic in my direction as I boarded the bus. Tourists, I knew by now, are fair game at every possible opportunity.
From a rooftop terrace overlooking Yunkai * (Ait Benhaddou in real life), it’s easy to fall in love with everything about this picturesque place and while it was remarkably cold, the snow on the High Atlas Mountains added to the charm.
And then we crossed the river on stepping stones, entered the city walls and climbed to the citidel atop, where the sweeping views were equally breathtaking.
* Yunkai is the smallest of the three cities in Slaver’s Bay in Game of Thrones. Scenes from Pentos, the biggest of the Free Cities, were also filmed in Ait Benhaddou.