Places of interest
Khartoum and Omdurman : Khartoum is one of three sister cities, built at the convergence of the Blue and White Niles: Omdurman to the north-west across the White Nile, North Khartoum, and Khartoum itself on the southern bank of the Blue Nile
Khartoum has a relatively short history. It was first established as a military outpost in 1821, and is said to derive its name from the thin spit of land at the convergence of the rivers, which resembles an elephant's trunk (khurtum). Khartoum grew rapidly in prosperity during the boom years of the slave trade, between 1825 and 1880. In 1834 it became the capital of the Sudan, and many explorers from Europe used it as a base for their African expeditions.
Khartoum was sacked twice during the latter half of the 19th century -- once by the Mahdi and once by Kitchener when the Mahdi was ousted. In 1898, Kitchener began to rebuild the city, and designed the streets in the shape of the British flag, the Union Jack, which he hoped would make it easier to defend. On the opposite bank of the Nile, North Khartoum was developed as an industrial area at about the same time.
Today's Khartoum is a quiet, unremarkable city. It has peaceful, tree-lined streets, and in some ways still bears the unmistakable mark of an outpost of the British Empire. Its expansion to accommodate a rapidly-growing population, however, has added very little in terms of charm or atmosphere.
Places to visit in Khartoum
National Museum. This contains antiquities and artefacts from several periods of Sudanese history and pre-history, including glassware, pottery, statuary and figurines from the ancient kingdom of Cush. Ancient Nubia's Christian period is well-represented, with frescoes and murals from ruined churches, dating from the 8th to the 15th century. The Museum's garden contains two reconstructed temples, which have been salvaged from the Nubian land flooded by Lake Nasser. These Egyptian temples of Buhen and Semna were originally built by Queen Hatshepsut and Pharaoh Tuthmosis III respectively. The temples have corrugated iron covers built over them to protect them from humidity during the wet season. The original concept was to roll back these covers during the dry season, but whether this ever happened or not is unclear. The covers are rusted into place and are now permanent and immovable!
Ethnographical Museum. This is a small museum which contains an interesting collection of items relating to Sudanese village life. These include musical instruments, clothing, cooking and hunting implements.
Places to visit in Omdurman
Souq. This is the largest in the Sudan, and has an interesting variety of goods on display. Ivory and ebony candlesticks are carved by market craftsmen, goldsmiths and silversmiths fashion all kinds of jewellery in their shop-fronts, and the atmosphere is lively and bustling. The best time to visit is on Friday mornings.
Camel Market. This is situated about 2km north of Omdurman's main souq. Animals are mostly brought from eastern or western areas of the Sudan.
Tomb of the Mahdi. On the death of the Mahdi in 1885, his body was entombed in a silver-domed mosque in Omdurman. This was completely destroyed by Kitchener in 1898, when the Mahdi's body was burned and his ashes thrown into the river. In 1947 the Mahdi's son had the mosque and tomb rebuilt. Not surprisingly, it is closed to foreigners, but can be viewed from the outside.
Beit al-Khalifa. This is situated opposite the Mahdi's tomb. Once the home of the Mahdi's successor, the house was built of mud and brick in 1887, and is now a museum. It contains relics from Mahdiyya battles, including guns, war banners and suits of mail. An interesting collection of photographs depicts the city of Khartoum at the time of the Mahdi's revolt and its subsequent occupation by the British.
This is the capital city of the Kordofan region in Western Sudan, and was once the Mahdi's capital and political centre. Situated in the middle of a vast stretch of barren desert, it has a population of 200,000 people and is an important centre for the production of gum arabic. This substance is used in the manufacture of food thickening, ink and medicinal products, and is obtained from acacia trees.
The city experiences problems with its supplies of both electric power and water. Electricity from the city's own generators is erratic and power cuts are the norm. In such an arid desert environment, water supplies often dwindle and have to be brought in by truck from other areas.
The two souqs in the city deal mostly in meat and vegetables. There are also some tailor's shops where fabric can be purchased and clothes made to order. There is little to interest the visitor in El-Obeid, apart from a small museum, which displays exhibits relating to ancient Sudanese history. Its Catholic cathedral is impressive, however, and is said to be one of the largest in Africa.
Port Sudan is a harbour city, established by the British in 1905 as a seaport. Once a thriving export centre handling the country's raw commodities such as sesame, cotton and sorghum, it has now fallen into decay as a result of the ongoing war.
Today's city is badly in need of care and repair, although it is still possible to see beautiful lattice woodwork on the window-screens of older buildings, which provide a glimpse into the city's more prestigious past.
It was once possible to travel by boat from Port Sudan to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, but passenger traffic, like commercial activity, has dwindled to the merest trickle. As a result, passenger services from the port are no longer in existence.
For visitors interested in Red Sea diving, this is still quite a good place to use as a base, and local hotels and dive shops can make the necessary arrangements.
Kassala is situated in Eastern Sudan and has a population of 150,000. The city is built on the Gash River and is the power centre of one of the Sudan's traditional families -- the Khatmiya Brotherhood, which opposed the Mahdi family in the last century.
On the outskirts of the city live the Rashaida tribe, mostly inhabiting goatskin tents. They are a nomadic people who breed camels and goats, and are closely related to the Saudi Arabian Bedouin, having migrated from the Arabian Peninsula about 150 years ago. It is the mysteriously-veiled Rashaida women who make a great deal of the silver jewellery sold in the Kassala souq.
The souq is said to be one of Sudan's best, and sells a wide variety of the fruit for which Kassala is renowned. Grapefruit, pomegranates, oranges, bananas and melons are all for sale here, as well as local handicrafts, fabrics and the aforementioned silver jewellery.
Several kilometres outside Kassala are the curiously-shaped 'sugar-loaf' hills, known as the jebels. They can be seen on the horizon from the city and are the habitat of a tribe of baboons, which come down from the hills at sunset to drink at a nearby village well.
Kassala is also a favourite retreat for Sudanese honeymoon couples, and in the nearby village of Khatmiya, the same village well is a traditional place for newly-wed couples to drink. Water from the well is said to bring good luck and a fertile married life.
The island is situated 58km south of Port Sudan and was once a major trading centre, particularly in the 19th century, during the boom years of slavery. As far back as the 10th century BC, Suakin was used by Pharaoh Rameses III as a trading port, but declined in importance after the close of the 19th century AD, and in 1905 was superseded in importance by Port Sudan.
Its unique architecture is made of coral, but these once-beautiful buildings, although restored by the Mahdi in 1881, are now in the final stages of crumbling away. The island is linked to the mainland by means of a causeway.
Once an important centre of power in ancient Nubia, the remains of the old northern-Sudanese city are being excavated by a Polish-led team -- a project that has been in operation since 1964.
The town is now noteworthy for its palm groves and its September date harvest, when young boys climb the palm trunks, carrying sharp knives in their teeth, to cut the clusters of dates. The fruit and vegetable souq here is a colourful sight, occasionally dealing in camels, which the desert nomads bring in for sale.
The Cushite temple of Kawa is situated on the eastern bank of the river. The ruins of this temple can be visited by taking a ferry across the river from the main town.
This northern-Sudanese market town has a population of about 15,000. The town itself is of little interest, but there are several ancient sites nearby which are worth a visit. Just 2km south of the town is the 100-metre high Jebel Barkal, a hill which was regarded as sacred by the Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty. From its summit, there is an excellent view of the Nile. At its foot lies the Temple of Amun, second only in length to the famous Temple of Karnak. This was once surrounded by about six smaller temples, and ruins of these, together with statuary and hieroglyphics, make this an interesting Cushite site. Lying west of the temple are the Jebel Barkal Pyramids, similar in style to those at Meroe.
Located at the conjunction of the Atbara tributary, flowing down from Ethiopia, and the River Nile, Atbara is on two main railway routes: from Atbara to Port Sudan, and from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa.
The city has a population of 75,000 people. In 1898 it was the site of a battle between the British and the Mahdists, when 2,000 of the latter were wiped out by Kitchener. After the battle, British officials settled here, building colonial-style houses, which are now used as government offices.
The ruins of the Royal City of Meroe are located about 100km south of Atbara. Residence of the kings of Meroe between 592BC and AD350, the city shows strong Egyptian architectural influence. The ruined Temple of Amun is still standing, together with the remains several palaces and a swimming pool.
In the desert, about 5km to the east, stand the royal pyramids, where the dead kings of Meroe are buried.
Jebel Marra Mountains
This western-Sudanese mountain range is dominated by the second-highest mountain in the Sudan, known as Jebel Marra. This is an extinct volcano which rises to a height of 3071 metres.
At the base of the mountain range lies the town of Nyala, and this town forms a good starting point for an exploration of the surrounding mountainous countryside. It is a beautiful region of hills, rivers and orchards, and is an interesting spot for walking enthusiasts. There is a waterfall near the village of Quaila and some hot springs near the crater of the volcano itself.
El-Fasher In the 18th century, El-Fasher was the main centre of the Fur Sultanate. The sultan's palace can still be seen in this western-Sudanese town, and is now a museum.
The town was also famous as the starting point of one of the most important camel caravan routes in Africa. Known as the Darb al-Arba'een, or Forty Days Road, this route carried ebony, spices, rich cloth, ivory and slaves from all parts of Africa to the Egyptian bazaars of Aswan and Asyut.