Taking a stroll around central Khartoum is best done early on Friday mornings when the streets are largely deserted of traffic. This is the best time to appreciate a city that is beautiful despite some awful architecture.
Khartoum was the creation of the Anglo-Egyptian Administration who found it in ruins when they arrived with their conquering army in 1898. It has been said by some that Kitchener chose the original road layout so that it resembled the Union Jack of the British flag. Another possible reason is that the design allowed maxim guns to be placed at junctions that covered several streets simultaneously. This would suggest that new rulers didn’t feel entirely at ease, but it seems doubtful that Kitchener had such concerns following the final routing of Mahdist forces in Kordofan in 1899. It is more likely that the pattern simply aided quick movement around the new city, and its effectiveness is one reason why this gridiron pattern has partly survived until now.
Many of the street names were also chosen as a physical reminder of the victories of the British and Egyptian armies in their long war with the Mahdist Sudan: Tokar, Abu Hamed, Atbara, Abu Klea, Metemmeh, Sinkat, Toski, and of course Kerrari. Some of these streets such as Abu Hamed, which used to run parallel to Atbara Street, have disappeared completely. Only Sinkat and Atbara are noticeable as diagonal lines that cross the grid like road structure of the rest of downtown Khartoum.
Other roads were named after British and Egyptian heroes (and villains!). Their names have disappeared as surely as Charles Gordon’s statue that used to stand in the square outside the Governor’s palace but which now graces the grounds of Gordon’s School in Woking, Surrey. Gordon Street/Avenue was aptly renamed Al Mahdi Avenue while Mohamed Ali Avenue has become Al Mak Nimr Street (who defeated Mohamed Ali’s Egyptian army near Shendy). Victoria Avenue became Al Qasr Street (Palace Street). A brick built building called Victoria House serves as a reminder of this history. This used to be the Victoria Hotel but is now a café.
A million moments ago one could have taken a tram down the “tree lined” Victoria Avenue, past the Kitchener Memorial School to the war memorial. But history has to move on as surely as a caravan passing through the desert. So, who will Khartoum’s streets in the future be named after?
Perhaps my favourite renaming has to be Ali Dinar- much better than 8th Street!
(co-researched and written with Edmund Wyatt)