Capital of Sudan.
The Three Towns—Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum North—together comprise the political, commercial, and administrative center for Sudan. Located where the Blue Nile and White Nile join to flow north toward Egypt, the capital city is the largest urban complex in the country. Its population of 850,000 in 1980 swelled to nearly 4 million by 2002, as the result of the influx of migrants from drought areas in the west and displaced persons from the war-torn south. Their immigration has transformed the character of the Three Towns from largely Arab, with Nubian enclaves, into a polyglot mix of peoples and cultures.
Khartoum, the political capital, means "elephant trunk" in Arabic. It was a small village called alJirayf, on the south shore of the Blue Nile, before the Turko-Egyptian conquest of 1821. The invading force established a small garrison near Mogren village, which became the government center in 1826. The government provided free building materials to encourage the residents to replace their straw huts with permanent brick houses; built a dockyard, military storehouse, barracks, and large mosque; and encouraged commerce by steamer on the Nile and overland to the west and east. A telegraph line linked Khartoum to Egypt by 1874 and, later, to the Red Sea coast and the west. The town remained relatively small, however, peaking at 30,000. The Mahdiyya forces captured Khartoum on 26 January 1885, which signaled the demise of Turko-Egyptian rule and was dramatized by the death of the British officer Charles Gordon on the steps of the Turkish governor-general's palace.
Khartoum was sacked by the Mahdists (1885–1898), but was restored as the capital after the British forces seized Omdurman and Khartoum on 1 September 1898. During the Anglo-Egyptian condominium (1898–1956), the British rebuilt Khartoum and constructed a series of stone government buildings along the Nile waterfront, flanking the imposing governor-general's house. They planned the city streets to resemble Union Jacks, built distinct residential quarters for Europeans and Sudanese, opened Gordon Memorial College in 1903, and established an industrial zone. A railway bridge across the Blue Nile was opened in 1909. The population grew rapidly from 30,000 in 1930 to 96,000 at the time of independence.
Since independence the principal government offices, embassies, European-style hotels, airport, offices, shops, and villas have been located in Khartoum; so has the University of Khartoum (known until independence on 1 January 1956 as Gordon Memorial College). By 1973, a third of a million people lived in Khartoum; in 2003 the total exceeded two million. Wealthy merchants live in palatial houses in al-Riyadh district, just across the highway from impoverished slums and squatter housing.
Omdurman, located on the southern side of the junction of the White and Blue Niles, served as the capital of the Sudan during the Mahdist period. As many as a quarter million people lived there during the 1890s. As the place where the Mahdi died, it had a special sanctity. The British initially emptied the city, but it grew to a sprawling residential area with some one million inhabitants. It has traditional-style housing: The wealthier areas have stone and brick villas with courtyards and gardens hidden from the street by high walls, and the poorer
areas consist of mud-brick huts in walled-off compounds along dirt roads. Different ethnic groups tend to live in distinct quarters, with a large public market serving the entire city. The government periodically razes districts filled with migrants from the west and internally displaced people from the south, in an attempt to force them out of the city. The parliament building, television and radio stations, and major academic institutions such as Omdurman Islamic University and al-Ahfad College for Women are located there. The headquarters of the leading political parties and religious movements, notably the Ansar and its Umma party and the Khatmiyya brotherhood and its Democratic Unionist party, are in Omdurman. The skyline is dominated by the silver-colored dome of the Mahdi's tomb and its adjacent great mosque, destroyed by British gun-boats in 1898 but rebuilt in the 1940s.
Khartoum North (Halfaya, Khartoum Bahri), located on the north bank of the Blue Nile, was the site of two small villages before the Turko-Egyptian occupation. It contained the encampment of the Khatmiyya sufi order during that period. Destroyed by the Mahdists, it was completely rebuilt by the British and contained the terminus for the railway from Egypt, which reached the capital in 1899. Spurs to Port Sudan in the east and to Sennar, farther south, opened in 1909. The railway was extended west to al-Ubayd in 1911. Today, two bridges link Khartoum North to Khartoum and Omdurman. Khartoum North's location at the junction of those lines provided a base for the rapid growth of industry and residential areas. The main manufacturing industries are located there as well as extensive middle-class and squatter housing areas. By 2002, about a half million people lived in Khartoum North, as against 40,000 in 1956 and 151,000 in 1973.
Hall, Marjorie, and Ismail, Bakhita Amin. Sisters under the Sun: The Story of Sudanese Women. London: Longman, 1981.
Holt, P. M., and Daly, M. W. The History of the Sudan. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979.
Lobban, Richard A., Jr.; Kramer, Robert S.; and Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. Historical Dictionary of the Sudan, 3d edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002.
Simone, T. Abdou Maliqalim. In Whose Image? Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
ann m. lesch
Khartoum ★★½ 1966
A sweeping but talky adventure epic detailing the last days of General “Chinese” Gordon as the title city is besieged by Arab tribes in 1884. 134m/C VHS, DVD . Charlton Heston, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Richard Johnson, Alexander Knox, Hugh Williams, Nigel Green, Michael Hordern, Johnny Sekka; D: Basil Dearden; W: Robert Ardrey; C: Edward Scaife; M: Frank Cordell.