It’s all in details – Bayon and it’s magnificent ornaments

My previous post was about Angkor in general, this one aims at showing you the details that caught my attention in one of its temples. In the meantime I will also come back to our story line. We woke up really late, by that time the receptionist from our hotel was trying to get rid of Tony (our tuk-tuk driver) even though we made an appointment with him the previous night. It was around noon when we finally met him and asked him to take us for breakfast to the place he recommends. And this is how we got to an open air restaurant near Bayon temple eating curry for breakfast. At least P did. I wasn’t that hungry. He remembers it being especially tasty…

Bayon Temple
Faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Bayon was our first temple and we spend quite a lot of time there. It’s a Buddhist temple located in the center of  Angkor Thom representing the intersection of heaven and earth. The most characteristic features are huge stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with one facing outward and keeping watch at each compass point. The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been  called the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.”

Four of the city’s five gates sat on axis with the temple, and the walls of the city substituted for the enclosure walls normally found at Khmer temples. The walls sit at such a distance from the temple that the temple seems to rise abruptly from the ground like an artificial mountain. In fact, the temple was intended to evoke the form of Mt. Meru—the cosmic mountain at the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In keeping with this cosmic symbolism, the plan of the temple is based on a ‘yantra’, a symbol used by Tantric Buddhists as the basis of mandala diagrams that represent the layout of the universe.

The Chams on the run
Three-level panorama of Jayavarman VII's victory over the Chams

Long walls covered with collection of  bas-relief scenes of legendary and historical events are another reason to visit the temple. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall contain real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. It is not clear whether this represents the Cham invasion of 1177AD or a later battle in which the Khmer were victorious.

Bas relief Bayon Temple
Bas relief Bayon Temple

If you enter Bayon by the east gate and view the reliefs in a clockwise direction, here’s what you’ll see:

  1. The Chams on the run. A three-level panorama of Jayavarman VII’s victory over the Chams.
  2. Linga worship. Worshippers bow before a linga (Hindu phallic symbol associated with Shiva). The revered object was probably originally a Buddha, but later altered by a Hindu king.
  3. A naval battle. Some of Bayon’s best-carved images, this section depicts scenes of a naval battle at Tonle Sap Lake and images of everyday life by the lake.
  4. The Chams are vanquished. Scenes of the defeat of the Chams on the shore, coupled with more images of ordinary life, such as a chess game, a cockfight, and women seeling fish.
  5. Military procession. This section, which includes elephants being led in from the mountains, is unfinished.
  6. More military procession.
  7. Civil war? Here groups of people confront each other, leading some scholars to believe it depicts a civil war.
  8. The all-seeing king. This interesting panel shows an antelope being swallowed by a giant fish and a prawn among smaller fish and includes an inscription proclaiming that the king will seek out those in hiding.
  9. Victory parade. A procession with the king carrying a bow.
  10. A Khmer circus at the western corner or the northern wall. A strong man holds three dwarfs; a man on his back spins a wheel with his feet; above is a group of tightrope walkers. The royal court watches from a terrace.
  11. A land of plenty. Rivers teem with fish.
  12. The Chams retreat. This narrative takes up most of the north wall.
  13. The Chams sack Angkor on the east wall. This panel depicts the war of 1177, when Angkor was defeated and pillaged. Above war scenes, despairing Khmers are getting drunk.
  14. The Chams enter Angkor. Another meeting of the two armies before King Jayavarman’s victory depicted in panel

 

 

 

 

 

The ground floor of the temple, called also inner gallery, reminded me of a labyrinth full of mystery. The contrast between light and darkness was striking. Narrow passages, mythological reliefs, pillars all made me feel like being on a quest to find a treasure of long forgotten civilization. I know too much Tomb Raider (even though I don’t really like this film). We also came across a few monks who seemed to be sightseeing just like we did. In the sanctuary located in the central tower you can see statue of Buddha where worshipers leave burning incenses and offerings.

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Mystery of Angkor – from childhood dream to reality – Bangkok Hue part 3

Angkor Wat

When I was in elementary school I remember receiving a book from my Mum as a birthday present. It was called “Strange Worlds Amazing Places” published by Reader’s Digest (polish edition). I think this was the first book that made me want to see distant lands. Beautiful pictures encouraged my imagination. I traveled before I got this book, seen a lot of Europe & USA mainly. This book allowed me to dream further that civilization known to me. And so I came across Angkor for the first time that I can remember.

Bayon Temple
Bayon Temple

The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from piles of bricks to the well  maintained Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Before getting to Cambodia I was

Apsaras, divine nymphs or celestial dancing girls
Apsaras, divine nymphs or celestial dancing girls

convinced the whole area was called Angkor Wat and didn’t consist of more than 3 to 4 temples, this only means I didn’t do my homework and read more about it. Later I found out that Angkor Wat is only one of the temples on 400 square km site where the  capitals of Khmer Empire were once located – please note plural – capitals. Over five centuries Khmers were major power in south-east Asia. Each emperor added splendor to Angkor building magnificent temples, reservoirs or terraces:

  • Bakong now called Roulos – finished in 811 was a state temple of king Indravarman, dedicated to Shiva;
  • Preah Ko – built around 880 by the same ruler in memory of the royal ancestors;
  • Lolei – dedicated in 893 by Yasovarman I to Shiva and to members of the royal family;
  • Phnom Bakeng – located atop a hill is nowadays a popular tourist spot for sunset views of the much bigger temple Angkor Wat;
Ta Keo
Ta Keo

Angkor Wat

  • Thommanon – mall and elegant temple dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu;
  • Bayon – dedicated to Buddha was a state temple of Jayavarman VII;

Bayon Temple

  • Ta Prohm – founded by Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university;

Ta Prohm

Do you remember Mortal Kombat & Mortal Kombat II? I always thought at least one of them was filmed in Angkor but in fact for both pictures were taken in Thailand. Although the Temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in Tomb Raider. There were of course other films made there, among them The Killing Fields (1984), In The Mood for Love (2000), City of Ghosts (2002) and Two Brothers (2003).

Fancy a further read? Follow the links: Khmer architecture, Country profile,

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Siem Reap, Cambodia -our troubled first night – Bangkok to Hue part 2

So there we were in the middle of nowhere, jungle on one side, endless rice fields on the other. At least it seemed they were endless as we couldn’t see further that the lights of our taxi reached. The air conditioning in our vehicle was full on and we started to get cold. It was hard to communicate with our driver as he didn’t know English at all.

– Can we turn the air conditioning off?

– …

– Do you mind if we turn off? (pointing at air blower)

– ??!!!

– Ok, we will turn it off, just for a second…

And second it was. When we turned it off the damp air and smell in the car were unbearable. So we turned it on again. The driver just gave as a look “I told you so”. After a while, when we already started to yawn, a police patrol came out of blackness. They signaled us to stop. We looked at the driver, he seemed very reluctant, but he slowed down and stopped at the same time reaching desperately for his mobile. This did not alarm me right then. The policeman came over and knocked on the window. The driver didn’t react, he kept searching for a number in his mobile. The policeman knocked again. Now we were alarmed! Thoughts running through my head went something like this: “Who is more dangerous the driver or the patrol??? Are they looking for drugs, money or does the driver not have a license??? Should we run or stay?” The policeman knocked third time and the driver did not even lower his window. Another knock and the driver turned the inside light on. Uff.. this was enough for the policeman waved us away.

cars in the nightOur new friend had GPS on all the way to the city, so we knew how much further we needed to go and if we were on the right track. Everything was alright until the driver turned on road shoulder on the outskirts of Siem Reap. “What the heck?” And there it started again. We asked him what’s going on, as an answer we got only silence. We tried again, still nothing. Then came the tuk-tuks (with the drivers) and told us to get out. We said we wouldn’t we paid to get to the city center and we want the taxi driver to get us there. So it went for at least 10 minutes. In the meanwhile taxi driver (very angry taxi driver) got out of the taxi for a smoke walking to and fro. We said we wouldn’t move and stopped even talking to those tuk-tuk drivers.  Bare in mind there was only distant light from a nearby hotel in sight, we were in the middle of muddy shoulder 5km away from city center and very tired. Walking wasn’t an option.

Finally one of the drivers said they will take us free of charge to wherever we want to get in the city center andmotorbike in the night it won’t be a problem. We got to know him later on as Tony, really nice guy with a sense of humor. So we took two separate tuk-tuks and the other couple decided to follow us to our hotel. We liked it, they wanted something closer to the center so they went on. We got a room on the ground floor just behind the reception. It was sooo good to take a shower! But we were starving! On the way to the hotel Siem Reap did not make a brilliant first impression. You could guess it was just after rainy season. There was plenty of dust, the main street was shrunken to a strip of asphalt in the middle of the road and there were guards outside of some hotels. Obviously if there are guards there is something to be guarder from! Tired, hungry and feeling insecure we decided to leave our documents, cash and credit cards in the hotel safe. Smart huh? So we went to the reception:

– Do you have a safe in the hotel?

– What sorry?

– A safe to leave passports? We would like to leave it in safe…

– Oh yes, please put here (taking out two brown envelops)

– But you do have a safe, yes?

– Yes, yes.

Pub Street

We put all the things we wanted to leave in the envelops and sealed them with stapler and waited to see where the guy is putting it, the safe is what we wanted to see. So we waited, and waited until it started to be awkward. He was tossing our envelops in his hands waiting obviously for us to leave. So we went outside the glass door and really slowly started to put on our shoes. You can guess we still wanted to see where he was putting them. But he was waiting. So we moved away behind the tuk tuk parked outside the door and kept observing. Still nothing. Finally deciding it was too ridiculous we made our way towards the center. Atmosphere was amazing. Dust everywhere, little light, people standing in groups on the side of the road, car, motorbikes and tuk-tuks passing us by all the time. We could only imagine that the damage to the roads was caused by the rains. It felt dangerous.

We got to Pub Street. It seemed like all light from the city was condensed in this one street with loud club

Pub Street Siem Reap

music,  restaurants and bars next to each other. We were looking for traditional Khmer cuisine. Guess what! You can get everything: Italian, Mexican, Chinese… but not Khmer! We kept walking down the street until we found some stalls with local food, cheap, freshly made just in front of us and tasty. Surprise, surprise we also met our friends from the taxi, so we shared the meal and went together to the night market. For that time we forgot all about our worries, about the hotel, safe and documents, at least until we decided to head back to the hotel. Right then we started to worry again. So we walked as fast as we could to get those things back.

Night Market
In front of the entrance to Night Market

When we got back the receptionist wasn’t there. He wasn’t supposed to be back until 6 am next morning and the night porter didn’t have a key to the safe. We asked the porter to call the receptionist because it was important, he refused (maybe did not understand, I think he did though). We went back to our room and tried to fall asleep. I constructed the plan of action called “what can we do if they steal it all”. No passport, no credit card, not too much cash. Ok, the plan was: hitch hiking to Phnom Penh to the embassy and letting them deal with it. How will we find the embassy, we will use the Internet in our hotel on their cost, they can’t refuse us this. When I imagined the whole journey I fell asleep and was woken maybe an hour later by shouting. At first we didn’t pay any attention, but

Night market

those people kept on shouting and we couldn’t fall asleep so we started to listen. The issue was: the hotel overcharged American teenagers and they didn’t agree to pay the bill well just the overcharge). The porter couldn’t do anything about it and the guests were supposed to leave before the receptionist comes in in the morning. They shouted for around 40 minutes. We were certain then we were not getting our stuff back. But I fell asleep short after the fight stopped anyway, I was just too tired.  P woke me up in the morning bringing in the envelops from the reception… what a relief…

Night market
Night market

We got up around 11 am to meet Tony who took us to Angkor but more about it in the next post.

Let me know about your experiences in Cambodia and Angkor if you’ve been there! Any adventures?

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Crossing Cambodian border – Bangkok to Hue part 1

Route: London – Bahrain – Bangkok – Siem Reap – Ho Chi Minh City – Nha Trang – Hoi An – Hue – Da Nang – Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – Bahrain – London

Time schedule:  5th November 2009 – 19th November 2009

Participants: 2 P & Me

Route map

Here we are at the Bangkok train station on  6th November 2009 early afternoon. It’s my second time in Bangkok so yesterday – the first day we spent in bangkok, we were able to avoid some of the tourist traps tyros do encounter (more about it in a different post). Nevertheless booking train tickets through the agency seemed easy and very tempting, mainly because we were to arrive in Siem Reap late evening and didn’t fancy walking from one hotel to another in strange city, tired with a heavy backpack. So we bought: train tickets to the On the platformCambodian  boarder, bus ticket to Siem Reap and overnight stay in a guest house; in the agency at the main railway station. Of course we overpaid, but well the journey was supposed to be smooth and comfortable.

We are waiting for the train to arrive, expecting probably something like what you see in the pictures from India. We read in our guide that you need to hurry to get seats as the trains are usually overcrowded.  While we are waiting there is more and more people coming. I don’tInside of the train think we spotted any other tourist among them besides two German guys with backpacks. Finally the train arrives and we are able to get in, interior  looks pretty the same as in some old carriages in Poland, P says it might be even better. When we depart most seats are taken but there is no one standing yet. This is of course going to change along the way, there will be youth traveling from school, farmers with their crops, traders offering coconuts to drink and different kinds of food jumping on and off the train. The journey is fantastic. We can’t take our eyes from the view outside the window. Firstly we observe life around the tracks with so By the tracksmany families using the space for their everyday life. Health and safety in Europe would never allow that. We can barely recognize where the stops are, as there are no platforms or signs. The train just stops and people get in. Then we come across group of graduates who have their pictures taken on the tracks. Is that for good luck IGraduate wonder… then the landscape changes and we come across rice fields, little cottages between palm trees just next to fish ponds, pastures and stations in the middle of nowhere. It’s the kind of sites you can only see while traveling by land transport. I’m so glad we didn’t take the plane.

A person working for agency was going to wait on us at the final stop to take us through the border and lead us to the bus going to Siem Reap. Sounds good. We had no idea what time it was and it really didn’t feel like a long journey. When we arrived everyone suddenly seemed to be in a hurry. We looked around in search of our guides. It was them who found us and insisted on Rice fieldsmoving quickly to a tuk-tuk. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk-tuk is: it’s a  motor vehicle with three wheels used to transport passengers and goods, called sometimes auto rikshaw. There was an American couple who didn’t know where to go. I tried to help and offer them to come along with us but we got separated by our guides who insisted we move along faster. And so we did. There are plenty of tuk tuks for hire so if you travel by yourself, don’t worry you will be able to hire transport. I tried to assess if you could walk instead of hiring wheels and I think is doable. I recentlyCows walked to Dublin Port from O’Connell St in Dublin (so compare it to what you are willing to walk).

Anyway we already had our visas from Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok (tip: if you are taking taxi get the address written in Thain alphabet not Latin), so we only had to fill out immigration cards supplied by our guides. You can get Visa and immigration card on the border. The first one is paid, the second free of charge (in case someone wants to charge you). So this is how it looked like: before the border our guide took us to table under a tent and asked to fill out the cards. We did that and waited for him for a while. He came back with another guy and the four of us approached the border post. Our guide told us he cannot cross the border but the other man will take us across and if we want to take out some money we should do it now, because in Cambodia there are no ATMs and a lot of pickpockets. He kept repeating how dangerous it is and we started to get nervous. It was getting dark by now and plenty of people with all types of bags, cases and carts were crossing the border. We did not know what to believe. We had $ so we didn’t feel it was necessary to take out any money, so we just kept on going. When we got to Thai border a man started to camrecord us, which felt really strange. The thought crossed my mind “is this for ransom purposes???!!!” It was really dark by then. We found ourselves in the stream of people walking in darkness. We could barely catch up with the man who was supposed to take care of us. We walked over a stream smelling of fish and dirt. People were brushing and bumping into us. I was getting more and more aware of the stress I felt… And then there was light. We thought we were already in Cambodia, but this was actually a zone of enormous hotels and casinos with limousines parked outside. Everything was luxurious and glittering, like some other world, Asian Las Vegas type of thing. Now I thought about mob and drug lords, but we just kept on walking until we got to the Cambodian border. You know it’s communist country, so we were treated as all foreigners in communist country, which is something difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Let’s just say people are very unhappy when you disturb their “work” even when this work is supposed to be serving you. Just before approaching the official we met Polish couple traveling to Siem Reap as well. We quickly exchanged experiences and wished them farewell.

When we got to the other side P had to go to the toilet so I stayed with the luggage waiting. The man who crossed the border with us just then told me that the train was late and so the last bus is gone and now we need to pay for a taxi to get to Siem Reap. I got really angry, I said I didn’t care, that we paid for the transport and it’s their problem to provide us with replacement.

He kept on saying: “No buses today”

and I kept saying: “I don’t care I paid!” (believe me I know it wasn’t constructive but I was too tired to care).

So it went until P came back and the couple we met earlier suggested we could share a taxi. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by taxi drivers, touts, our guide and Polish couple. Everyone wanted to pull us in different direction, shouting and convincing us we should come with him. We couldn’t even talk to each other to decide what we want to do. Next minute an old bus approached us and our guide told us to get in so we can drive away where taxis are cheaper than here. There was another tourist already on the bus reaching his hand towards us.

We looked at the bus, at the guide and decided NO WAY!

So we shared the taxi for $30 (for the whole car). Our guide was really mad that we didn’t do what he wanted. And told us to give back our transit tickets (the ones we got at the agency). We thought “well obviously he needs them, fine let’s get it over with!”.  So we took off happy to be on the way, chatting about our trips and places we’ve seen, when suddenly a police patrol started to flash light at us in the middle of nowhere and our driver did not want to stop… but I will tell you all about it in the next post.

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Belchite, Spain – facing history

Panorama of Belchite

The town is located about 50 km from Zaragoza to the south – east and has about 1.5 thousand inhabitants. The place is famous for its remaining after the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) ruins of pueblo viejo (old town). Battle of Belchite occurred between 24 August and 7 September 1937. Republican Army after seizing Quinto and Mediana encountered fierce resistance  in Belchite where several hundred nationalists tackled the impending offensive. It was one of the battles during the procession of Republican Army towards Zaragoza, which ultimately ended in failure.

Gate to BelchiteWithin the old city no restoration work has been scheduled and the nature and slowly manages to regain it’s territory. While it is difficult to notice any remains of furniture or household appliances; floors, walls and rubble look untouched. The ruins contrast the well cared for and clean new city located just behind well preserved gate. Pueblo viejo is dominated by three high buildings.

One of them is the baroque Church of San Augustin, built in the eighteenth century. InsideView from clock tower you can see the impressive ceiling ribs, reliefs, column aisles. Another surviving church is the Church of San Martin de Tours also dating from the eighteenth century, in which besides ribbed vaulting ceiling, you can see the remains of murals in blue. Both churches have the towers to which tourists have no access.

Clock TowerHalfway between one and the other is a tower of La Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower) on which a narrow staircase. Despite the holes in the inner chimney believes these staircases are often poorly lit, so it is good to bring a flashlight. This tower differs strongly from both churches and was in fact built in the Moorish style in the late fifteenth century. A brick structure on a square plan served as a belfry, now bears his name from the clock, which is installed at the top in the eighteenth century. The tower is crowned by a pyramid-shaped roof. The interior decoration has been preserved only the ornate ceiling.

Belchite is a place of memory, which circulate disturbing stories. Supposedly at night you can still hear the moans and screams of people who died in it.

[slideshow]

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Driving around in Marrakesh and men who don’t ask for directions – Morocco part 6

Our drive to Marrakesh took us through Atlas mountains. AMAZING! Wow. The road just wriggled like a snake between mountains. Precipice here, precipice there… I’m used to roads in Alps, Germany, Austria, Italy, France. I’ve been to Croatia and drove from coast to Zagreb (at some point the road seemed to be a front yard of house or restaurant) but road in Morocco really took my breath away. At one moment we found ourselves driving around the rock in U shape so narrow that we could barely pass a truck so how could two trucks pass each other? No idea but it’s almost like driving to Vesuvius  with a trailer passing coaches.

We got to Marrakesh without a city map. BIG mistake! We had a small map of the city center in the guide but it’s not enough, believe me.  We were expecting signs saying: to medina or something like that and there are signs, it’s just that we found ourselves in the middle of old medina with no hotels. With narrow one way streets or streets closed for cars, thousands of pedestrians mainly natives walking in all directions not paying much attention to anything besides their business it’s a labyrinth where you can easily get lost. We were driving in circles looking for hostels or a way out. As you can imagine moods where not the best as each one of us had a different idea which way to go. Finally from the back seat I decided to ask for help. Lucky me I even found a really nice guy speaking English! He was kind enough to suggest he will show us the way, but the man in my car were not very found of this idea and told him rudely to get lost. Typical, nevertheless it made me really angry, cos we were waisting our time. We managed to get out from old medina and drove to the outskirts again. Really wide streets, kind of residential ringroad and almost nobody on the road. We stopped to calm down and discuss what to do next.

We decided to drive around and find a hotel, which wasn’t hard. The difficult part was finding something within our budget. No luck there so we ended parking our car in walking distance to Souk del Bahja an go to an Internet Cafe and browse for hostels. We wanted to print out the map with nicest looking hostels and in result had to pay for around 60 pages of of which we needed only two.  We couldn’t find anyone of the hostels on the map so we checked to the cheapest hotel we found on our way. Really nice room and a really nice service and parking space for our car! We had an evening walk around Marrakesh, very quiet and very tempting with orange trees along every street. Can you actually eat them?

The most interesting part of our stay was next morning at souks. Souk or souq is a arabic/muslim term for street market or part of the market. Entering the souk feels like being taken to One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights). The amount and colors of products displayed is overwhelming. The temptation to buy is never ending. We got to the market early so still not all stalls were opened but also not many traders stopped us on the way.

Souk in MarrakeshFirst all kinds of houseware, tagines, lamps, jewelry boxes, plates, sculptures, carpets, clothes, bags, sharfs, shoes and many many more. Our eyes were glittering with excitement looking for little treasures. Then food; olives, spices, herbs, meat, fruit, vegetables we have never seen before… which made us hungry so we decided to eat some breakfast – tagine as you can imagine. In the middle of souks just next to a small mosque, away fromBreakfast at souk Djemaa el Fna (main square) we found a perfect spot with paper tableclothes.  We just sat there eating wonderful meal and drinking mint tea, thinking how wonderful trip it was and how lucky we were it was not a tourist season and traders didn’t nag us every second to buy something (as it happened in Vietnam). We were not tired by people, we were happy and didn’t feel like we were treated as a piggy bank by locals. In Djemaa el Fna we saw snake whisperer and water seller in a traditional costume, who nowadays charges for having his  picture taken.

[slideshow]

It’s almost end of our trip but I just wanted to tell you a story which happened when we were driving back on a motor way. We were driving some time then and the traffic was pretty big, especially with trucks. So we found ourself driving down hill with wide lanes but with no overtaking sign. Of course we did overtake as the trucks were driving really slowly and we had plenty of space. As you can imagine around the corner police was stopping cars like ours. In this case they stopped three cars, we were in the middle. The policeman came over and asked:

– Parlez vous francais?

– No, English

– Pas du tout?

– English?

– No francais?

– No

– Aller!

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Caravan route from Sahara to Marrakesh – Ait Ben Haddou – Morocco part 5

Morocco Ait Ban Haddou

And so it was that we got up and left the city of Ouarzazate with it’s film studios and memories of films such as Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Kundun, Kingdom of Haven and many more. We took the Tizi n Tichka road and soon enough felt hungry. Not even 20 km away we stopped on a petrol station to have some breakfast. Tagine! as you can imagine. Yummy, but we had to wait for it for ages.

First glimpse of ksar was unbelievable.

Sand stronghold in the middle of sand townhouses, all like it was part of the desert. Around strips of color, stains of green and towards the skyline whites of snow in Atlas mountains. Above it all clear, clear blue of the cloudless sky. First thought: ‘How beautiful’ Second: ‘How did they build it?’ Third thought: ‘Like town from Stargate’.

We got a little bit further and the ksar was suddenly mist over by new town where tourist business flourishes. We took a cobblestone street towards the wall and gates of Ait Ben Haddou where as you can imagine all shops are located. They all look lovely but we were in no mood for shopping. We felt impatient to see the ksar again. One of the men on our way was very persistent, he asked us to translate a letter he received from a customer from our country. He wanted us to drink tea and spend sometime with him but we were suddenly in a hurry. We did translate the letter in the end but “promised” maybe to buy something on our way back.

And there it was just in front of us on the other side of the river. River???? Yes about knee deep but still a river, locals will charge 10Dr to cross the river on a donkey (or let wellingtons), they probably removed the stepping stones to improve their business. Anyway we took off our shoes and crossed to the other side.

From the main gate we followed a labyrinth of stairs, houses, paths, roofs to get to the top. It felt amazing, like  bieng kids in the playground. The light, sun and shadow everything was so picturesque. While inside it was dark and cool when you step outside to one of the roof is was bright and warm. It took some time for the eyes to adjust. I didn’t think about the people who used to live here years ago, what they did, if they were happy. I was more concentrated on finding out what was behind the next door, stairs, corner. We climbed up, up and up until finally reached the top of the rock. The view did not disappoint.

A couple of facts, you can find more on UNESCO web-site:

–  the ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat;

– the oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the XVII century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco

– the site was a trading post on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass

– the communal areas include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer

– the earthen buildings are very vulnerable due to lack of maintenance and regular repair resulting from the abandonment of the ksar by its inhabitants

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