History of Omdurman

Published on 26th June 2007

Omdurman is a town of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan lying on the western banks of the river Nile, opposite the capital, Khartoum. With a population of approximately 1.2 million, Omdurman is the largest city in the country and the national center of commerce. With Khartoum and Khartoum North or Bahri, it forms the cultural and industrial heart of the nation.

Since the invasion by Muhammed Ahmad in 1819, Sudan was governed by an Egyptian administration. This colonial system was disliked by the Sudanese people as it imposed heavy taxes and had clumsy attempts to end the slave trade. In the 1870's Muhammad Ahmad begun to attract followers as he preached renewal of the faith and liberation of the land. He then proclaimed himself Mahdi, the promised redeemer of islamic world.  

His movement overwhelmed Egyptian troops and he gained control of large portions of Sudan. By now, the Egyptian government had passed under British control, and in 1883 8,000 Egyptian troops under the command of a retired British Colonel, William Hicks were sent to quell the revolt. However, the Egyptian troops were destroyed and Hicks perished in the fighting.

The British government resolved to quit Sudan, and sent General Gordon to Khartoum to organize the evacuation of foreigners. Gordon refused to abandon the town and was soon besieged. The British sent a relief column to rescue him. After defeating the Mahdists, the column arrived within sight of Khartoum, only to find they were too late: the city had fallen two days earlier and Gordon and the garrison had been massacred. These events temporarily ended British/Egyptian involvement in Sudan. In 1884, Muhammad Ahmad made his military headquarters in the village of Omdurman.

The Mahdi died soon after his victory in 1885, and was succeeded by the Khalifa Abdallahi ibn Muhammad who proved to be an able, albeit ruthless ruler of the Mahdiyah, the Mahdist State. He made Omdurman his capital.  

Omdurman growth was rapid as the Khalifa compelled large numbers of disaffected tribesmen to live in the town under the eye of his soldiery. European captives of the Mandists were imprisoned here. On the 2nd of September 1898 the Anglo-Egyptian army under Lord Kitchener totally defeated the forces of the Khalifa. 

The city is now the location of the tomb of the Mahdi. Save for two or three wide streets which traverse it from end to end, the town is a network of narrow lanes. In the centre facing an open space are the ruins of the tomb of the Mahdi and behind is the house in which he lived. The Khalifa's house, the mosque, the Beit el Amana (arsenal) and other houses famed in the history of the town also face the central square. 

Omdurman is the headquarters of the native traders in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Major items of trade are ivory, ostrich feathers and gum arabic from Darfur and Kordofan. There is also an important camel and cattle market. Almourada town in Omdurman is famous for its fish market along the banks of the Nile and is also home of Almourada football club, a top Sudan Premier League.

Alshohada or Hay Alsouq is in Omdurman's downtown area and is known for transportation lines, buses, taxis, canteens, barbershops, fast-food restaurants and music stores. The city has its own industrial area, in which many of huge factories are working under the control of Sudanese government, in terms of production control and quality assurance.



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