Nouakchott alleged translation from berberic "The place of the winds" is the capital and by far the largest city of Mauritania. It is Sahara's largest city if one excludes marginal cases like Cairo and the cities north of the Atlas Mountains on Africa's northern coast. It is situated slightly inland in southern Mauritania, in a flat landscape.
Located on the Atlantic coast of the Sahara Desert, the city lies on the west coast, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is built around a large tree-lined street, Avenue Abd an-Nasir, which runs northeast through the city center from the airport. The city has a population of 650,000 inhabitants (2005 estimate). The economic base is administration and economic activities, and some domestic industry.
The city is located on a plateau near the West African Atlantic coast, about 270 miles (435 km) north-northeast of Dakar, Senegal. As a tiny fishing town until 1958, it is possible that the Berber Muslim Almoravids are originally from the area.
Mauritania was part of the larger French colony of French West Africa, and as such had no capital during the colonial period: Saint-Louis, in Senegal held that position. In 1957, however, this small port town was chosen to be the capital of the new country. In 1958 Mauritania was formed as an autonomous republic in the French Community, and Nouakchott became the capital in 1962.
Nouakchott was a major refugee centre during the Saharan droughts of the 1970s, and its rapid growth during that period was due to migration and urbanization in response to the droughts. In 1969 its population was only 20,000 and rose to 150,000 in 1980. Part of the difficulty in estimating the city's population is that part of it is nomadic.
Today the citys ocean port, which is 6.4 km from the city, has modern storage facilities, especially for petroleum. A deepwater harbor was built in the 1980s. Attractions in Nouakchott include Nouakchott Museum, several markets including Nouakchott Silver Market, and the beaches, one of which is a base for fishing boats. The city also hosts the National Library and National Archives.
The city has an airport and industrial area. It connects the more populated agricultural south with the sparsely populated but mineral-rich north. The city is home for The University of Nouakchott which is the only university in Mauritania.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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