Nouakchott (Arabic: Nuwākshūṭ, originally derived from Berber Nawākšūṭ, “place of the winds”) is the capital and by far the largest city of Mauritania. It is one of the largest cities in the Sahara.The city is the administrative and economic centre of Mauritania.
Nouakchott was a small village of little importance until 1958, when it was chosen as the capital of the nascent nation of Mauritania. It was designed and built to accommodate 15,000 people, but droughts since the 1970s have displaced a vast number of Mauritanians, who resettled in Nouakchott. This caused rapid urban growth and overcrowding, with the city having an estimated population of 2 million in 2008 despite the official figures being under a million. The resettled population inhabited slum areas under poor conditions, but the living conditions of a portion of these inhabitants have since been ameliorated.
Nouakchott is the hub of Mauritanian economy and is home to a port that handles 500,000 tonnes of cargo per year. A significant part of the population leads a nomadic lifestyle, setting up tents and relocating within the city. The city hosts the University of Nouakchott and several markets.
A tiny, fortified fishing village (ksar)of 200 people until 1958, Nouakchott was little mentioned during pre-colonial and colonial history. It is possible that the Berber Muslim Almoravids were originally from the area. As Mauritania prepared for independence, it lacked a capital city and the area of present-day Nouakchott was chosen by Ould Daddah and his advisors. Despite its name, based on a Berber expression meaning “place of the winds”,the city was selected as the capital city for its moderate climate and central location in the country. It also sat on one of the most valuable trade routes to West Africa.
Mauritania was part of the larger French colony of French West Africa and, as such, had no capital during the colonial period: Saint-Louis, in Senegal, held that position. In 1957, this small port town was chosen to be the capital of the new country, and an ambitious building program was begun to increase its population to 15,000, starting a year later. Nouakchott was still planned with the expectation that commerce and other economic activities would not take place in the city. In 1958, Mauritania was formed as an autonomous republic in the French Community, and in 1960 it became an independent country, with Nouakchott as its capital.