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Gao is a city in Malimarker and capital of the Gao Regionmarker on the River Niger, with a population of 57,978 in 2005.It is also the capital of the surrounding cercle of Gao.


Through much of its history, Gao was a center of trade and learning, and was the capital of the Songhai Empire. It is similar to, and culturally connected with the great Trans-Saharan trade cities of Timbuktumarker and Djennemarker.

The city was founded around the seventh century as Kawkaw, its first recorded monarch being Kanda, who founded the Za Dynastyof what became the Songhai Empire. He ensured the city’s growth by allowing trans-Saharan tradersto visit and Berbersto settle. Trade increased after Za Kossoiconverted to Islamin 1009.

The Mali Empireconquered Gao sometime before 1300, but Ali Golonre-established Songhai rule. A distinguished author of the period, Al-Idrissi, described it as a "populous, unwalled, commercial and industrial town, in which were to be found the produce of all arts and trades necessary for its inhabitants". Tim Insoll from St. John's College, Cambridge University, carried out important excavations in Gao. Some of his finds have been on display at the British Museummarker.

Under Ali the Great in the late fifteenth century the city became the centre of an empire, with about 70,000 residents and a 1,000-boat navy, but Gao was largely destroyed by the Moroccanmarker invasion of 1591.The town remained small until Frenchmarker rule was imposed in the early twentieth century, expanding the port and establishing a colonial base.


The population of Gao mostly speak Songhaybut includes many ethicities, including the Bozo(traditionally nomadic river dwellers), Fulfulde/Fulanicattle herders, and Tuaregnomads, as well as Bambara peoplesfrom western Mali.

The seventh Festival des arts et cultures songhaywas celebrated in February 2007 at Gao, reflecting ithe cities importance as a Songhay cultural capital.


Attractions in Gao include the original fourteenth century Gao Mosque, the Askia Tombmarker (a UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site) built in 1495 and incorporating another mosque, a museum devoted to the Sahel, markets including a night market, and La Dune Rose, a sand dune named for its appearance at dawn and nightfall.


Gao has an international airport (Gao International Airportmarker), and is linked to cities along the Niger, including Timbuktumarker, by a ferry service.While for centuries a transit and trade hub, the tourist industry, especially serving cruises of the Niger River, has also become important to the local economy.

Niger Bridge

In 2006 a new bridge across the Niger at Gao was inaugurated in the Independence celebrations. [100086]


A number of villages (including Bakalmarker) are along the outskirts of Gao, in the Gao district.


The stadium Stade Kassé Keïtais in Gao, and was opened for the 2002 African Cup of Nations.

Twin Cities

Gao is twinned with Thionvillemarker, Francemarker and Berkeley, Californiamarker, USA.


Translation of French Wikipedia Article.
  1. Communiqué du Conseil des ministres du 3 janvier 2007
  2. Festival des arts et cultures Songhay: Un facteur d’épanouissement de la région de Gao, Les Echos du 14 février 2007

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