26 interesting facts about Mauritania

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The most interesting facts about Mauritania, from the last country in the world to abolish slavery to the world’s longest train.

Interesting facts about Mauritania include the largest desert in the world
Interesting facts about Mauritania include the largest desert in the world (CC 2.0/John Spooner)

Fast facts

Official name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Capital city: Nouakchott
Population: 4,005,475
Area: 1,030,700 sq km
Major languages: Arabic, Pular, Soninke, Wolof, French
Time zone: UTC 0 (Greenwich Mean Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Mauritania

1. Mauritania is located in North and West Africa bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Algeria, Western Sahara, Mali and Senegal.
– Source: Britannica

2. The name Mauritania originates from the ancient kingdom of Mauretania which itself derives from Mauri (meaning Moors), the Berber-speaking people of northwest Africa
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

3. Mauretania existed as a tribal kingdom from around the 6th century BC. Phoenicians and Carthaginians and was later annexed to Rome around AD 44.
– Source: Britannica

Archaeological Site of Volubilis in modern-day Morocco
Archaeological Site of Volubilis in modern-day Morocco (CC 2.0/Lkadi Adil)

4. Founded in the 3rd century, the UNESCO-listed Archaeological Site of Volubilis in modern-day Morocco was the capital of Mauritania and showcases extensive remains of the Roman city that was built there.
– Source: UNESCO

5. The modern capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, likely derives from the Berber “nawakshut” meaning “place of the winds”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

6. During the 1850s and 1860s, France gained control of southern Mauritania. In 1904, Mauritania was established as a French colonial territory.
– Source: BBC News

7. The Mauritanian flag has a green background with a central crescent and star and red bands at the top and bottom. The green, star and crescent are traditional Muslim symbols and the red signifies the bloodshed during the struggle for independence from France.
– Source: Britannica

Mauritania's flag
Mauritania’s flag (CC 2.0/Tanvir Ahmed Aakash)

8. After gaining self-governance in 1958, Mauritania gained full independence in 1960.
– Source: BBC News

9. Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery when the practice was finally banned in 1981. In 2012, it was estimated that 10% to 20% of the population still lived in slavery.
– Source: CNN

10. In 1984, a coup brought Colonel Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya to power. He remained in power until 2005 when he was ousted by the military while out of the country.
– Source: BBC News

11. Mauritania formed part of the Dakar Rally, first held in 1978–79 and covering nearly 15,000km between Southern Europe and Senegal. It is considered to be the world’s most gruelling automobile race. In 2009 the rally was relocated to South America after its organizers cancelled the event due to safety concerns in Mauritania in 2008 which led to its cancellation that year.
– Source: BBC SportBritannica

A car in the Dakar Rally
A car in the 2007 Dakar Rally (CC 2.0/Edio)

12. Mauritania includes part of the largest desert in the world. The Sahara Desert, with a total area of 8,600,000sq km (3,320,000sq mi), covers much of North Africa.
– Source: Britannica

13. In fact, approximately 90% of Mauritania is desert which has caused persistent droughts throughout the country.
– Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)

14. 22.1% of Mauritania’s population live in poverty. Malnutrition is widespread with 9.8% of young children suffering from acute malnutrition.
– Source: United Nations World Food Programme

15. Mauritania is home to the Richat Structure, sometimes referred to as “Eye of the Sahara” or the “Eye of Africa”. Seen from space, the circular geologic feature measures 45km (28mi) across and is believed to be caused by an uplifted dome that has been eroded to expose onion-like layers of rock.
– Source: NASA, European Space Agency

The Eye of the Sahara seen from space
The Eye of the Sahara seen from space (CC 2.0/Axelspace Corporation)

16. Mauritania is one of the world’s least densely populated countries with less than 4 people per square kilometre of land area.
– Source: World Bank

17. According to the UK Foreign Office, Mauritania is one of 17 countries deemed to be entirely unsafe for tourists to visit in 2020 due to the risk of terrorism.
– Source: The Telegraph

18. The UNESCO-listed Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata are four ancient towns founded in the 11th and 12th centuries to serve the trade routes that began crossing the Sahara.
– Source: UNESCO

19. The world’s largest ship graveyard is located in Mauritania. Near the city of Nouadhibou, hundreds of wrecks have been grounded in shallow water where they are scavenged or left to decay.
– Source: Nature Journal, Atlas Obscura

Rusting wrecks in the world's largest ship graveyard
The world’s largest ship graveyard (Shutterstock)

20. Mauritania is rich in mineral resources which include iron ore, gold, copper, gypsum, phosphate rock.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

21. Mauritania is also one of Africa’s newest oil producers after the Chinguetti oil field was discovered in 2001 with potential reserves of approximately 120 million barrels of oil.
– Source: BBC News

22. In 2019, one of the world’s largest discoveries of natural gas was also found in Mauritanian offshore waters with a potential of 50 trillion cubic feet of gas – equivalent to around 8.9 billion barrels of oil.
– Source: Reuters

23. Mauritania has one of the longest trains in the world. The “Iron-ore Train” or “Train du Desert” is frequently 2.3km long when it travels from the iron ore mines at Zouérat to Nouâdhibou.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The longest train in the world
The longest train in the world (CC 2.0/Annabel Symington)

24. The currency of Mauritania is the ouguiya which divides into five khoums. It is one of only two non-decimal currencies (not divisible by units of 10 or 100) the other being the Malagasy ariary currency of Madagascar.
– Source: Investopedia

25. The UNESCO-listed Parc National du Banc d’Arguin is one of the best birdwatching sites in Africa and is home to an array of wildlife including a wide variety of thousands of migrating birds and several species of sea turtle and dolphin.
– Source: Lonely Planet, UNESCO

26. In 1989, race riots erupted in Mauritania and Senegal after a border dispute. More than 40,000 black Mauritanians were driven out of the country into Senegal.
– Source: New York Times

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