After my arrival in Mogadishu, we leave the secure hotel for a first tour around the city, before midday prayers. I am curious, and not sure what to expect. There are reports of regular attacks, I am accompanied by four armed guards, and I know that I will not be able to move around as freely as I am used to. My eyes are glued to the window of the car as we head towards the old part of the city. Our very first stop is on the waterfront. My guide invites me to go out, and when I do, two of the four guards are already on either side of the car, closely inspecting the surroundings. It immediately gives me confidence, and takes away any nervous feelings I might have: my safety is in their hands, and I have no choice but to trust them.
To the south, we see a new port, and below us, a natural bridge where kids are playing. On the other side of the street, a row of old houses. We cross the street and enter the fish market, where big chunks of tuna and smaller fish are being sold. People greet me, try to sell me fish, and when we walk out again, I feel a strong urge to just walk into the narrow alleys of this oldest part of Mogadishu. Instead, we visit other parts of the city, but we keep coming back to the old town. We walk part of the market, walk into one of the alleys, chat with some of the people. who want to invite me to coffee which I don't drink. Women walk by, dressed in veils. Most of the one or two-storey houses are white: Mogadishu used to be dubbed the White Pearl of the Indian Ocean. The name derives from Persian Maq'ad-i-Shah, the seat of the Shah, but locals refer to it as Xamar, of Hamar in English. It is an old city; these regions were inhabited by people from Khoisan descent. References to a port here, called Sarapion, appear in Greek documents dating back to the 1st century CE. In the 9th or 10th century, a Sultanate would be established here.
All the while, I wonder about the fact that this part of town has apparently avoided destruction. Yes, the buildings are old, and their age shows, and yes, most buildings would need a some maintenance, but I rarely see bullet holes, or houses in ruins. The fighting has been elsewhere, and in this part of town, people have continued to live, even during the darkest days of the civil war that ultimately destroyed so much of the rest of the city. According to my guide, the old city is full, it is difficult to find a place to live here, and prices are high. Oh, how I would wish to be able to walk around the maze of alleys here, alone, in the early morning, at the end of the day, chatting to people, walk the market. But this is not possible, yet, and I have to settle with walking short distances with my escorts. We walk the market several times, we venture into some of the side streets, we see kids play in the streets, and I could almost believe that this is a normal city, until I see my armed guards just behind me.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mogadishu old city (Somalia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mogadishu old city. Read more about this site.