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Sudan: Suakin Old Town

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Suakin Old Town | Sudan | Africa

[Visited: March 2014]

When the bus passed Suakin on the way to Port Sudan, I knew I would be back a couple of hours later. After I found a place to stay, for a short while it seemed like it was going to be difficult, as the hotel manager told me there would only be minibuses in the early morning, but after asking around at the local bus station in the centre of town and getting contradicting information, I was invited into a bus heading the right way. I ceded my seat to an older man, who then paid my fare even though I did not want him to, and was told to alight and walk down the train track after ten minutes. It was my lucky day: I was the last passenger to board the vehicle and within an hour, I was back in Suakin. It had been cloudy all day, and to my joy the sun now found holes in the layer of clouds to cast its light on the Red Sea port town.

Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Few walls remain of this building in the old town of Suakin

From the bus stand, I walked the remaining distance to the coastline, walked the short causeway, and after I passed through the rather big gate, paid my entrance fee and got a ticket from the Ministry of "Antiputies Toursm and Widlife" from the friendly fee collector. I walked the only track to the other side of the small island. Its history goes back to antiquity: Ptolemy already mentions a circular island at the end of an inlet on the Red Sea. It was once a bustling trade port and a gateway for African Muslims on the way to Mecca on the other side of the Red Sea. Its houses built of coral, and it apparently was a beautiful city, but as so often happens with trading posts, other cities emerged, preferences shifted, the Portuguese found an alternative route to the Far East, and Suakin lost its importance, and ultimately fell to ruins. The Egyptians tried to revive it in the 19th century, but eventually, Port Sudan took over the role of the mainport on the Red Sea.

Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Decorated wall in the ruins of a building in Suakin

Walking around the ruins of this ancient town, it was hard to know what I was seeing. I saw mostly rubble, and some standing walls, a lone door, book shelves, standing amidst a layer of old coral. On the other side of the islet, I found a remarkable building with a wooden door and finely decorated walls inside, but walking the steps took me to floors that did not exist anymore. There was another building, which once could have been a palace: it was big, and on the sea side, I saw a row of columns lying in the waves. The roof was gone, and I saw hawks circling above me, with a big nest on top of the ruins. The hawks now call this palace home. I walked around until sunset, carefully stepping on the sharp coral, until the sun set on Suakin, as it has done for thousands of years.

Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Dusk falling over the old town of Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Ruins of the best preserved building in Suakin protected by cannons
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Roofless building in Suakin with hawk flying overhead
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Ruins of a house in Suakin the middle of the rubble
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Rusty lantern on the wall of the best-preserved building of the old town of Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Looking through an arch of what once was one of the grandest buildings of Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Ruins of a building in the old town of Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Walls still standing amidst the rubble of the old town of Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): The ruins of Suakin under the afternoon sky
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Details are still visible on the remains of this house in Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): Flights of steps leading to the first floor of this best preserved building of Suakin
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): These pillars once supported the seaside portal of this house, but now lie in the Red Sea
Picture of Suakin Old Town (Sudan): The ruined town of Suakin: mainly rubble, some standing walls

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