Khartoum is the capital of Sudan. Khartoum serves as the country’s political, cultural, and economic hub.
Khartoum is a city of juxtapositions, where the old and the new coexist. Its geographical location, cultural diversity, political significance, and economic dynamism make it one of the most notable cities in Northeast Africa.
Where is Khartoum?
Khartoum is found in Sudan’s northeastern region in the Khartoum state, at the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers. These rivers merge to form the Nile River, which continues north towards Egypt. Its coordinates are roughly 15.6 degrees North latitude and 32.5 degrees East longitude.
Centrally located within Sudan, Khartoum is an essential hub for the country’s transport and communications networks. Its prime position at the meeting point of two major rivers has long made it a key location domestically and for Northeast Africa.
History of Khartoum
Before the advent of colonial rule, the area where Khartoum is today was inhabited by various indigenous tribes. Although it wasn’t a prominent settlement, its strategic location made it a point of interest for traders and travelers.
Under Egyptian rule, initiated by Muhammad Ali Pasha, Khartoum evolved from a mere military outpost to an important trading center. It served as a gateway for Egyptian expansion into the Sudanese interior.
Its importance grew with the trade of goods such as ivory and spices. The Egyptians also built basic infrastructure, paving the way for Khartoum’s urbanization.
Muhammad Ahmad, also known as the Mahdi, led a revolt against Egyptian and British authorities and captured Khartoum in 1885. General Charles Gordon, who was leading the Anglo-Egyptian administration, met his end during the siege.
Under Mahdist rule, Khartoum was not just a military stronghold but also served as a religious and political center. This period ended when Anglo-Egyptian forces reclaimed the city in 1898.
After its recapture, Khartoum became the administrative core of Sudan, governed as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium. The British introduced substantial administrative reforms and invested in infrastructure, such as railroads, that connected Khartoum to other parts of Sudan and Egypt.
Educational institutions were established, and the city began modernizing, drawing people from multiple regions for work and education.
When Sudan gained independence on January 1, 1956, Khartoum became the capital of a free nation. Though not without challenges, the city continued to develop, including periods of internal strife and civil wars that affected the country.
Yet, it remained the epicenter for political decision-making, hosting government institutions, foreign embassies, and major universities.
In recent years, Khartoum has been at the heart of critical events in Sudanese history. It was a focal point during the secession of South Sudan in 2011, affecting the political and economic landscape of the entire country.
The city also played a crucial role in the 2019 Sudanese Revolution, serving as a gathering point for protesters demanding political change. This led to the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir and ushered in a transitional government.
Features of Khartoum
Khartoum is a fascinating blend of contrasts, where tradition and modernity coalesce to form a unique urban landscape. The riverbanks provide scenic vistas and recreational areas, starkly contrasting the otherwise arid and flat terrain surrounding the city.
Architecturally, Khartoum is a mix, with colonial-era buildings standing beside contemporary skyscrapers, offering visual cues to its layered history.
Geography and Climate
Khartoum lies within the larger Sahara Desert, characterized by arid to semi-arid conditions. However, the immediate area around the riverbanks is relatively more fertile and supports some vegetation.
The city experiences a hot desert climate with very little yearly precipitation. Summers are scorching, with average high temperatures reaching up to 41 °C (106 °F), while winters are milder, with average lows around 15 °C (59 °F).
Khartoum is a populous city and serves as a cultural melting pot. People from different ethnicities and regions of Sudan come to the city for educational and economic opportunities, contributing to its diverse demographic makeup.
Additionally, there is a growing international community, primarily composed of people from other African nations, the Middle East, and some Western countries. The city is predominantly Muslim, although there are communities of Christians and followers of other faiths.
Khartoum stands as the economic powerhouse of Sudan. The service sector, including banking, insurance, and telecommunications, plays a key role in the city’s financial activities.
The technology sector has also increased in recent years, attracting domestic and foreign investment. Traditional industries such as textile manufacturing and food processing continue to be necessary, but there has been a noticeable shift towards modernizing the industrial base.
Khartoum is also a critical trading hub, partly due to its strategic location. It’s connected by road, rail, and air to various parts of Sudan and other countries, facilitating the movement of goods and people.
Government institutions and foreign embassies add another layer to the city’s economic profile, providing many employment opportunities.
Overall, Khartoum’s economy is dynamic but also faces challenges, such as inflation and political instability, which have the potential to impact its economic health.
Nonetheless, it remains the most economically active city in Sudan, with a broad array of industries and services contributing to its financial landscape.
Things to Do and Places to See in Khartoum
While Khartoum may not be a traditional tourist destination, the city still offers some noteworthy sites and experiences for those there. Let’s explore some of the more notable places to visit in Khartoum.
1. Sudan National Museum
The Sudan National Museum is a veritable vault of Sudanese culture. From the earliest civilizations to the modern era, this museum aims to preserve and promote the rich diversity of Sudan’s past.
Spanning multiple floors, the museum is divided into various sections that cover archaeology, art, and ethnography. The displays range from pottery and textiles to weaponry and musical instruments.
Well-curated exhibits bring ancient stories to life, while interactive stations offer a more hands-on learning experience.
2. Omdurman Camel Market
The Omdurman Camel Market is a living snapshot of traditional Sudanese life. The market is a sprawling space filled with the sounds of haggling, the smell of freshly brewed tea, and the sight of camels in various shapes and sizes.
Here, you’ll find farmers and traders from across Sudan and neighboring countries, each with a unique story about their herd. Apart from camel trading, the market offers other livestock and traditional handicrafts, textiles, and local food.
3. Relax on the Nile River
The Nile River isn’t just a geographical marvel; it’s a sanctuary for locals and tourists. Offering an array of water-based activities and scenic spots, this natural waterway is a focal point for leisure in Khartoum.
Visitors can look forward to a mix of relaxation and adventure. Options range from languid sunset cruises to active pursuits like fishing or kayaking. For those who prefer to stay on land, the riverbanks offer excellent spots for picnics or watching the world go by.
4. Al Kabir Mosque
Al Kabir Mosque stands as an enduring landmark in the religious landscape of Khartoum. With its origins tracing back to the early days of Islamic influence in Sudan, the mosque is an emblematic structure that has stood the test of time.
Whether religious or simply interested in architecture, visitors can experience the spiritual ambiance of the mosque. During prayer times, the call to prayer fills the air, adding an authentic touch to the visit.
5. Al-Nilein Mosque
Al-Nilein Mosque is a more modern addition to Khartoum’s religious scene. Its unique design and the stunning backdrop of the meeting point of the Blue and White Nile rivers make it an unmissable sight.
Visitors can take guided tours highlighting the mosque’s architectural features and significance. As it is a functional religious site, tourists should be aware of prayer times and dress appropriately. Photography is often allowed, and the views, particularly at sunset, are stunning.
6. National Botanical Gardens
The National Botanical Gardens are a living repository for Sudan’s endemic and exotic flora. The gardens are meticulously planned and feature various sections dedicated to different vegetation types.
From arid desert plants to tropical foliage, the gardens are an educational journey through Sudan’s botanical diversity, where visitors can expect a tranquil atmosphere, ideal for leisurely walks or for delving into the scientific names and characteristics of the plant species on display.
7. St. Matthew’s Cathedral
St. Matthew’s Cathedral is a testament to the multicultural fabric of Khartoum. Serving as a key religious center for the Christian community, the cathedral is a remarkable blend of architectural influences.
The cathedral boasts a unique design incorporating colonial and local architectural elements. Its interior is adorned with beautiful stained glass windows, religious icons, and wooden pews that have been carefully preserved over the years.
8. Tuti Island
Tuti Island offers a slice of tranquility amidst the urban bustle of Khartoum. Nestled at the heart of the city yet isolated by the waters of the Nile, the island provides a unique getaway destination.
The island is primarily agricultural, giving visitors a glimpse into traditional Sudanese farming practices. Apart from the fields, Tuti Island also has small neighborhoods and local markets, giving it a rural charm in contrast to the surrounding cityscape.
9. Al-Waha Mall
Al-Waha Mall stands as a symbol of Khartoum’s evolving commercial landscape. As a modern shopping complex, it starkly contrasts the traditional markets that have long been the cornerstone of Sudanese commerce.
The mall is a multi-storied complex housing an array of retail stores, from local boutiques to international brands. It also offers entertainment options like cinemas and food courts, making it a comprehensive destination for shopping and leisure.
10. Day Trip to Naqa Archeological Site
Naqa stands as an open-air museum, offering a journey back in time to the Kingdom of Kush. Located outside the limits of modern Khartoum, this archaeological site is a treasure trove for anyone interested in ancient history.
Naqa features an array of historical landmarks, including temples, pyramids, and intricate carvings. The site has been partially restored, balancing preservation and natural decay. Informative plaques help tourists understand the context of each structure.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time to visit Khartoum?
The ideal time to visit Khartoum is between November and February when the temperatures are more moderate.
Is Khartoum a safe place to visit, given the current political situation?
In light of recent events, the safety situation has further deteriorated, with many incidents of political violence and fatalities reported. Khartoum state, in particular, has been a hotspot for intense fighting.
Given these developments and the ongoing advisory from the FCDO against all travel to Sudan, including Khartoum, the city should be considered highly unsafe for tourists at this time.
What currency is used in Khartoum?
The Sudanese pound is the currency used in Khartoum.
How do people usually get around Khartoum?
While public buses and mini-buses are available, taxis are the more reliable and commonly used transportation for visitors.
What are the cultural norms to be aware of in Khartoum?
Modest attire and respect for Muslim religious practices are advised, as Sudan is a predominantly Muslim country.
Is English widely spoken in Khartoum?
Although Arabic is the main language, English is spoken in business environments and by educated individuals, but it is not commonly used.
What is traditional food like in Khartoum?
The traditional cuisine in Khartoum is influenced by Sudan’s diverse cultural landscape and historical trade relations with neighboring countries. Staples include sorghum and millet, used in different forms, from bread to porridge.
Meat is also integral to meals, usually cooked in stews or grilled. The use of spices like cumin, coriander, and saffron reflects Middle Eastern and North African influences.
What are popular authentic local dishes to try while in Khartoum?
Khartoum’s culinary scene is a blend of diverse influences, offering a range of dishes that capture the city’s varied heritage. Here are some must-try dishes for anyone visiting.
1. Ful Medames: A popular dish made of fava beans, topped with sesame oil, and garnished with chopped onions and tomatoes.
2. Tamia: These are Sudanese falafels made from ground fava beans and spices, often served with tahini or as a sandwich.
3. Kisra: A type of thin bread made from fermented sorghum, commonly served as an accompaniment to stews.
4. Shaiyah: A grilled meat dish, often made of lamb or beef, seasoned with local spices and served with bread or rice.
What are the accommodation options in Khartoum?
Accommodation ranges from budget hotels to luxury establishments, and advanced booking is recommended due to limited availability.
How does the cost of living in Khartoum compare to other cities?
Khartoum is more expensive than other Sudanese cities but generally less costly than Western cities.
Is tap water safe to drink in Khartoum?
Tap water is generally not considered safe for drinking; bottled or treated water is recommended.
Are credit cards widely accepted in Khartoum?
Credit cards are not commonly accepted; cash is the preferred payment method.
What are the emergency numbers in Khartoum?
The emergency numbers are: Police – 999, Fire – 777, and Medical – 333.
Khartoum is a city of contrasts, where historical legacy meets modern aspirations. From its colonial-era architecture along Nile Street to its bustling Central Business District, the city offers a unique lens into Sudanese culture and history.
However, the ongoing political instability and armed conflict, especially the recent escalation in violence, make it a high-risk destination. Given the current advisories against all travel to Sudan, including Khartoum, postponing any plans to visit is advisable.