Mogadishu (Somali: Muqdisho; Arabic: مقديشو Maqadīshū) is the capital and most populous city in Somalia. Once a beautiful city that merged Somali and Italian cultural and architectural traditions, much of it now lies in ruins after decades of civil war. Security remains a serious issue, and although the city is now undergoing a construction boom, whether this restores Mogadishu to its attractive days of yore is yet to be seen. Attractive or not, for the hardiest of travellers Mogadishu reveals a wealth of historical and cultural sights set within a bustling metropolis. War weary and longing for the future, Mogadishu is slowly emerging from years of instability and is at last beginning to define its own destiny, inshallah.
Archeological evidence demonstrates settled living in Mogadishu going back four thousand years, well before Arab trade or influence. During the middle ages it was the centre of the Mogadishu Sultanate, before coming under the control of the Muzaffarids from Zanzibar in the late 14th century. The famed traveller Ibn Battuta arrived in the city in 1331 when Mogadishu was at the peak of its prosperity. He described Mogadishu as "an exceedingly large city" with many rich merchants, famous for its high quality fabric that it exported to Egypt and elsewhere.
Vasco Da Gama passed through Mogadishu in the 15th century and observed a large city with houses of four or five storeys high, with big palaces in its centre and many mosques with cylindrical minarets. In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa noted that many ships from the Kingdom of Cambaya sailed to Mogadishu with cloths and spices for which they in return received gold, wax and ivory. Barbosa also highlighted the abundance of meat, wheat, barley, horses and fruit on the coastal markets, which generated enormous wealth for the merchants.
Italy colonised Somalia in the late 1800s and in 1905 made Mogadishu the capital, naming it Mogadiscio. Thousands of Italians began to settle in Mogadishu, and the colonists immediately initiated plans to transform the city. The old city walls were knocked down and suburbs created. Fascism was in vogue in Italy, and Mogadishu was intended to be an imperial city. New, broad roads were constructed, the seafront reconstructed, and the old historical quarter was spared little mind in the Italians' ambitions. The Mogadishu cathedral was constructed by the Italians in 1925.
Italy lost its colonial hold on Somalia after World War II, but Mogadishu had by this point adopted a unique Italo-Somali character. Architecturally, a Somali style – coral-white houses, Arab quarters – mixed with Italo-fascist modernism – planned suburbs, wide boulevards, a stripped-down aesthetic. Mogadishu had also acquired a degree of European flare – a café culture, evenings strolling the shops. Pasta had become a Mogadishu diet staple.
Somalia gained its independence in 1960 and, for a time, tourism thrived. Somalia was nicknamed the "Switzerland of Africa", and grand hotels overlooked the oceanfront in Mogadishu. But by the 1980s the Somali government had taken a totalitarian turn and popular unrest began to brew. In 1989, riots resulted in an large exodus of foreigners from the city. Civil war broke out in 1991.
The war devastated Mogadishu. Much of the architecture was destroyed. In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union assumed control of the city and imposed sharia law, managing to bring a semblance of stability. They were soon driven out by the Transitional Federal Government, while the Islamic Courts Union splintered into factional groups, one of which is the infamous al-Shabaab. The Transitional Federal Government has held tenuous control of the city ever since. As of 2023, war continues to rage (at least periodically) in the rest of the country.
Mogadishu began to rebuild, yet it is still plagued by extreme violence. In 2017, over 500 people were killed by a truck bombing. In March 2022, al-Shabaab killed over 60 people in a series of attacks. In October 2022, an al-Shabaab double car bombing killed over 120 people.
Despite the violence, there is cause for optimism. The city has experienced a construction boom. Foreign direct investment has increased. At least twenty foreign embassies have reopened. Mogadishu is, and will remain for some time, one of the most unstable cities in the world, but it is also a large metropolis, holding over 2.6 million people as of 2023. The future of Mogadishu is not exactly bright, but it's not dim either. While there is little mind paid to tourism or tourist infrastructure in Mogadishu, it remains a city with few equivalents in Africa.
Flights arrive at Mogadishu International Airport, also known as 1 Aden Adde International Airport (MGQ IATA) (a few kilometers southwest of the city center in the Dagmada Waaberi neighborhood/district and across the road from the Dagmada Wada Jir neighborhood/district.). Facilities are basic, but the Turkish government has put up funds to renovate the airport and its security, control tower, and navigational systems. As of 2016, approximately 100 flights operate to/from the airport daily. The following airlines serve Mogadishu:
- Jubba Airways. The only Somali-based carrier with a hub at Mogadishu. They offer services from Dubai Airport, Jeddah, Nairobi, Djibouti, as well as domestically from Hargeisa and several other cities.
- African Express Airways has services between Mogadishu and Abu Dhabi, Aden, Berbera, Bosaso, Dubai, Galkayo, Nairobi-Jomo Kenyatta, Sharjah, & Wajir.
- Air Djibouti only from Djibouti
- BlueSky Air services that link domestic cities in Somalia with its hub at Mogadishu International Airport and the rest of the world via Nairobi Wilson Airport in Kenya.
- Daallo Airlines has services from Djibouti stopping en route at Hargeisa.
- Fly-SAX offers service from Nairobi.
- Turkish Airlines have a twice-weekly service from Istanbul Airport via Djibouti
- Ethiopian offers daily flights between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu
- Qatar Airways has flights to Mogadishu, from Doha, via Djibouti
It is possible to drive into the city by truck, but this is considered a risky activity, unless you employ a group of local militia which are available for hire. Roads link the city with many Somali locales and with Kenya and Ethiopia. Armed guards, hired security forces, and experienced guides are all mandatory for a safe entry, and even then the risk of your being injured, killed or captured is extremely high.
Small cargo ships regularly leave from the Old Harbour of Mombasa for Mogadishu and sometimes Kismayo. Speak with the security officers at the gate of this tiny port and they will negotiate a fare with the captain. The journey will take 2-5 days, depending on conditions. The sea is rough in July–August, requiring lengthier travel.
Roads are a muddy mess during rain, traffic lights do not always work and there are no enforced traffic laws or public transport. The road network in Mogadishu is slowly being repaired and paved. A vehicle with driver and armed guards is a must. Break-ins at intersections are possible, so avoid openly displaying anything that could be considered valuable by a Somali. Better still, hire an armoured vehicle with driver and guards.
The central city, especially the old Shangani quater (Degmada Shangaani), is filled with historic sights and contains a mix of Islamic and Italian colonial architecture. Decades of conflict have however left most of it in ruins. There is an ongoing effort to restore some important landmarks, including the main cathedral. Visitors should have a security guard accompany them.
- 1 Arba-Rucun Mosque (Mosque of the Four Pillars). Owing to the city's Islamic heritage, one of few things the city's various warlords can agree on, this 1269 mosque has been luckier than the neighbouring cathedral, and is one of very few buildings in the historic center which is not a ruin. It's said to have been built by a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.
- 2 Arch of Triumph (Arco di Trionfo Popolare). Triumphal arch built by the Italians in 1936.
- 3 Banadir Governor Office (ufficio Govorno). The government building where the governor stays. Nice for taking pictures or a talk with the friendly staff.
- 4 Black Hawk Down Crash Site (inside the Bakara Market). A security guard is absolutely required. There are plans to collect the ruins in a safe area so that people can easily see it without protection.
- 5 Ruins of Mogadishu Cathedral. Built during the colonial years of Italian Somaliland, the cathedral has barely survived the decades of civil war. It was badly damaged during fighting in the 1990s, then severely bombed by Islamists in 2008. Some stone walls and arches remain as testament to the old building. The new Somali Government has mentioned the possibility of rebuilding the cathedral as a sign of religious harmony.
- 6 Mogadishu Lighthouse. Italian colonial lighthouse that has been in ruins since the war, yet still retains its charm.
- 7 Mogadishu Peace Park (Beerta Nabadda), Via Marocco, ☏ . Built in 2016, the Peace Park is the most popular park in the city with over 700 people coming to visit, take pictures and just enjoy the green every day.
- 8 Almnara Tower. Medieval relics in Mogadishu that witness the rise and fall of powers in the region.
- 9 Fakr Ad-Din Mosque. Ruins of the oldest mosque in Mogadishu, first built in 969 AD.
- 10 Sayid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan Monument. A monument to Sayid Mohamed Abdullah Hassan, leader of the Dervish movement that existed between late 19th century and 1920 and fought against British and Italian colonizers.
- 11 Daljirka Dahsoon. Monument dedicated in honour of the Somali men and women who died in defense of the Somali Republic.
- 12 National Museum of Somalia (Matxafka Qarankais). First opened in 1933 and reopened in 2014, it houses a collection the country's largest collection of cultural and historical artifacts.
- Mogadishu Fish Market. Built with thanks to UK-Somalia, the fish market is thriving. For visitors who have seen the famous "Mogadishu Fish Picture" and want to try it for themselves, good luck.
- Jaziira Livestock market. Is a booming camel market, cows, sheep, and goats. Animals are fed before exporting them to Middle East markets. You will find different breeds from the Somali Cattle breed to the Ethiopian Borana Cattle breed. In the camel market you can enjoy the fresh camel milk.
- 1 National Theatre of Somalia. Under renovation as of 2021.
- 2 Jaziira Beach (south of the city). Lovely and quiet place with resorts, hotels and restaurants with a white, sandy, sunny beach that is popular with everyone. Attractions include a small island where you can take pictures and go for a boat ride.
- 3 Liido Beach. Built for the Italian colonialists, also known as Mogadishu Miami Beach. It is popular with foreign tourists and overseas Somalis. The area offers cheap seafood, nice resorts, swimming and sandy Indian Ocean beaches. The famous Anglo-American Club was here.
- 1 Mogadishu University. A non-governmental university that is governed by the Board of Trustees and the University Council. Admission requirements for the university are listed on their website.
- Benadir University. Started in 2002 with the intention to train doctors but has expanded into other fields.
- 1 Bakaara Market (Suuqa Bakaaraha). An open market and the largest in Somalia. It was created in late 1972 during the reign of Siad Barre to allow proprietors to sell daily essentials. The civil war subsequently created demand for arms and ammunition. Everything from pistols to anti-aircraft weapons are being sold. Falsified documents are also readily available. Forged Somali, Ethiopian and Kenyan passports can be processed within minutes. This illicit sub-market is known as Cabdalle Shideeye after one of its first proprietors.
Most markets and especially the Bakaara Market are a focus of ongoing arms control efforts for the disarmament of Somalia. Marketplaces should be considered hazardous not only because of their content and the presence of some unsavory characters, but also because they have caught fire several times in the last few years.
International cuisine can be found at Nasa Hablod Restaurant inside Hotel Nasa Hablod and at the Sahafi Hotel. These are probably the safest options for travelers.
- 1 Liido Seafood Restaurant. Offers local and international delicacies, especially seafood related. Popular with foreign tourists.
- 2 Istanbul Restaurant. Serves local and Turkish food.
Mogadishu is overwhelmingly Muslim, and has a social taboo against alcohol, as does the whole country.
- 1 Al-furat Hotel. Located in the center of the city, opposite the parliament building and along Number 4. The security is excellent and anyone entering the building is thoroughly searched, even laptops are inspected and switched on. Its restaurant is not the best and its pricey (this whole area of Mogadishu is up-town and more expensive than other parts of Mogadishu). It offers good, fast internet connection, your room will have satellite TV, with 24-hr room service, and rooms are comfortable, with good shower room.
- 2 Hotel Nasa Hablod, Km 4 square (2 km from International Airport), ☏ , fax: . Restaurant, meeting rooms, safe box, TV, internet access, air-con.
- 3 Hotel Shamo, ☏ , , , email@example.com. Large rooms, with air-conditioning, wi-fi and electricity 24 hours a day. The restaurant is extremely decent, and serves lobster when it's available at the fish market. The hotel is relatively safe. From US$100.
- 4 Oriental Hotel. Offers excellent food and security. Just for business travelers.
- 5 Peace Hotel, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. This luxury hotel is close to the airport with views of the Indian Ocean in a nice upper class neighborhood. It is popular with UN aid workers and foreigners, and has a focus on customer safety.
- 6 Sahafi Hotel. OA rooftop panoramic view of Mogadishu City Center. It is fortified with 3-meter concrete blast wall, watch posts and with at least 20 armed guards in the hotel at anytime of the day. The manager is very helpful, the staff are attentive and the food is good.
- 7 Syl Hotel. A five-star hotel where government dignitaries stay. Located near beach resorts, offering cozy rooms and conference rooms.
- 8 Jazeera Palace Hotel. It is frequented by business travelers and high-profile visitors. Security is a priority, with armed guards and walls that enclose the hotel. It was attacked in July 2015 by armed militants, resulting in several causalities. The hotel has two restaurants.
The city remains very dangerous for independent travel. Petty theft and violent crime remain significant threats in a city which has effectively been in a state of war for over 30 years and full of unemployed people with few possessions. Any white person and most other foreigners are thus regarded as wealthy and a target for crime. Do not wander the streets alone for any reason. If you must venture around the city, you should be accompanied by hired guards and ride in an armoured car. Smash-and-grab break-ins are possible in non-armoured vehicles. Ensure your hotel has armed guards 24/7, and do not trust your valuables to be left in your room.
Basic services, such as water and electricity, are not reliable, and you should not drink the water. Food and bottled drinks sold in the city may or may not be safe to consume. Try to get the advice of another foreigner who has been in the city a while. Health services are limited.
The availability of consular services in Somalia is limited. You may need to contact your country's embassy in Nairobi instead.
- 2 China, ☏ , email@example.com.
- Italy, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 3 Kenya, ☏ , email@example.com.
- 4 United Kingdom, Somalia.Enquiries@fcdo.gov.uk. Emergency requests originating in Somalia should be directed to the UK Embassy in Nairobi.
- United States, SomaliaPDS@state.gov. Emergency requests originating in Somalia should be directed to the US Embassy in Nairobi.
- Gondershe. An ancient stone city and ruins.