West African Geographic Locations

Go to Table of Contents Go directly to the regional map

Araouane is located 269 kilometers due north of Timbuktu on the piste that leads to the salt mines at Taoudenni. The French established a military post there in the 1920s to protect/inventory the salt caravans as they headed south to Timbuktu.

Bafoulabé is located at the junction of the Bakhoy and Bafing Rivers, two major tributaries of the Senegal River, about 600 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast in the modern country of Mali. [Map]
PHOTO: Senegal River ferry at Bafoulabé
senegal river ferry at bafoulabe

Bamako is the capital of independent Mali, and was the capital of the colony of French Soudan from 1904 to 1960. It is located on the Niger River near the rapids that divide the Upper and Middle Niger Valleys. It is served by an international airport, by a railroad from Dakar, and by road from Côte d'Ivoire . Bamako is located in the region of Banamba. [Map]
PHOTO: The Chamber of Commerce building in Bamako
chamber of commerce in bamako

Bambuk is the region in western Mali that is drained by the Upper Faléme River, a tributary of the Senegal River. It is known as the site of gold mines which supplied the trans-Saharan trade, and may have been the area described by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BCE.

dogon village Bandiagara is a town located 60 kilometers east of Mopti, on the western edge of the Falaise de Bandiagara. The falaise (cliff) extends for nearly 100 kilometers and overlooks a broad valley. In the past, the cliff-dwellers (called Dogon) and the valley-dwellers have often been rivals, and the Dogon successfully resisted Islamization until the twentieth century. In 1895, following the conquest of Ségou and Timbuktu, the French stationed a military officer to Bandiagara.
PHOTO: Dogon village--courtesy of Jean Bahr

Bourem is a town located on the left bank of the Niger River, 95 kilometers northwest of Gao. It is a southern terminus of the trans-Saharan piste (from Algeria) used by traffic headed towards Timbuktu.

map showing the southern end of the tanezrouft piste

headquarters of air afrique

Dakar is the capital of Senegal, and served as the capital of Afrique Occidentale Française during the colonial period. It is a port city with an excellent deep water harbor. It has an international airport and rail connections to St. Louis, Senegal, and Bamako, Mali. [Map]
Photo: Headquarters of Air Afrique

Gao is a town located on the left bank of the Niger River, 95 kilometers southeast of Gao. It is a southern terminus of the trans-Saharan piste (from Algeria) used by traffic headed towards Bamako, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. Gao served as the center of the Cercle du Gao during the colonial period, and currently serves as an administrative, military and customs center for northeastern Mali. [Map detail ]
Photo: Street scene in Gao--courtesy of Jean Bahr

street scene in gao

Goundam is a town located on the left bank of the Niger River between Niafunké and Timbuktu, roughly 100 kilometers southwest of Timbuktu and 34 kilometers nortthwest of Diré.

Gourma-Rharous is a town located on the right bank of the Niger River roughly midway between Timbuktu and Bourem.

Issa-Ber is a small town on the Middle Niger River downstream from Timbukltu and upstream from Gao. [Map]

Kayes is the town built by the French at the highest point of rainy season navigation on Senegal River. It was "founded" in 1881 when French military engineers started building a railroad from there to the Niger River at Bamako. It served as the capital of the French colony of Haut-Sénégal et Niger until 1904 and as the center of the Cercle de Kayes until independence. [Map] first kayes railroad station
PHOTO: The first railroad station in Kayes, now abandoned
switching operations on the <i>Régie des Chemins de Fer
de Mali</i>
PHOTO: Switching operations on the Régie des Chemins de Fer de Mali (at Koulikoro)
Since independence, Kayes serves as a regional administrative and transportation center with rail and air connections to Dakar, Senegal and Bamako, Mali. It is also one of the hottest places in Mali, since it is located nearly as far north as Timbuktu.

Kita is a colonial-era town located on the railroad between Kayes and Bamako. It is the administrative center of the Cercle de Kita and the junction between the railroad and caravan routes leading north towards the town of Nioro du Sahel and south to the country of Guinea-Conakry.

Koulikoro is a town located at the eastern terminus of the railroad that connects Dakar, Senegal to the Niger River. It is located at the highest point of navigation on the Middle Niger Valley, just downstream of the Sotuba Rapids. In 1885, at the site of an existing African village, the French built a camp for men who assembled and launched the steamship Niger. After a second steamship was launched there in 1887, Koulikoro became the base for French operations on the Middle Niger River. In 1904, work crews laid tracks to complete the Chemin de Fer de Kayes à Bafoulabé and built a station which opened on 10 December 1904. [Map] PHOTO: gardens and abandoned river barges at the Koulikoro waterfront gardens and abandoned river barges at the koulikoro

Koutiala is a town located in southeastern Mali, south-southeast of Ségou on the road to Bobo-Dioulasso, near the broder between Mali and Burkina-Faso.

Labbezenga is a town on the Niger River southeast of Gao. It is located on the border between the modern countries of Mali and Niger.

Médine is located about 12 kilometers east of Kayes on the Upper Senegal River just below the Félou waterfall. Before colonization, it was the terminus of major caravan trading routes between the gold-producing region of the Falémé River and the grain/animal producing region around Nioro. After the French conquest and the selection of Kayes as the terminus of the railroad, there was a long period of competition for trade between the two towns, until Médine declined in the period after World War I.

map showing the location of médine with respect to
     the félou waterfall

The Middle Niger Delta is the portion of the Niger Valley located between Segou and Timbuktu that changes into an enormous inland lake during the rainy season. At those times, the river overflows its banks, creating a maze of channels and islands across an area that is roughly 150 miles long and 50 miles wide.

pedestrians in front of the principal mosque in mopti
PHOTO: Pedestrians in front of the principal mosque in Mopti. Photo courtesy of Jean Bahr.
Mopti is a colonial-era town located in the Middle Niger Delta region at the confluencee of the Niger and Bani Rivers. It is located on a cluster of islands at the mouth of the Bani River which have been connected by causeways. French hunters camped there in the 1890s while seeking egret feathers, and after the railroad was completed to Bamako in 1904, Mopti became an inland center for French commerce and the headquarteers of the Cercle du Mopti. [Map detail ]

Oujda is a town in eastern Morocco near the Algerian border. It was the headquarters of the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger in 1947.

termite mound in dry season sahel landscape

The Sahel is a region without precise boundaries along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, north of the savanna region of tall grasses and bushes. Historicdally, the Sahel has been the region where nomadic pastoralists and sedentary farmers have interacted.
PHOTO: Termit mound in the Sahel during the dry season

Satadougou is a town located 35 kilometers southwest of Kéniéba on the Falémé River in southwest Mali. It is a center for gold-mining.

street scene near the wharf in ségou

Ségou is a town located in the Middle Niger Valley, downstream from Bamako and upstream from Timbuktu, at the entrance to the "Middle Niger Delta." Mungo Park visited the Bamara capital at Ségou in 1796 and 1805, Al Hajj Umar Tall conquered it in 1854, and the French conquered it in 1890. Subsequently, it served as the center of the Cercle de Ségou under French administration, and is currently a regional adminsitrative center in the Republic du Mali.
PHOTO: Street scene near the wharf in Ségou

Sine-Saloum is a region in Senegal at the mouth of the Sine and Saloum Rivers, located between Dakar and the Gambian border.

St. Louis was the site of the first permanent European settlement in Senegal. It is located on an island in the Senegal River a few kilometers from its mouth. Ocean-going ships could, with difficulty, clear the sand bar at the mouth of the river and reach St. Louis, and once they did, they could sail nearly three hundred miles inland on the Senegal River to Kayes during the rainy season. [Map]

The Tanezrouft is the portion of the Sahara Desert located north of the Niger River Bend and south of the Algerian oasis of Adrar. It is a stony plateau with nearly no water resources, which makes it difficult for animal caravans to cross. As a result, the Tanezrouft is one of the most desolate regions in the Sahara Desert. PHOTO: Nomad encampment in the Tanezrouft nomad tents in the tanezrouft

commercial district near the railroad station

Thiès is the most important railroad town in Senegal. It is located at the junction of the rail lines from Dakar, Bamako and St. Louis. It houses the main railroad workshops constructed by the French in the 1920s, and was the site of a number of major strikes in 1925, 1938 and 1947. [Map]
PHOTO: Thiè commercial district

Timbuktu (or as the French spell it, Tombouctou) is a town located left bank of the Niger River at its northernmost point. Throughout history, it served as the southern terminus for ther trans-Saharan trade routes that brought gold north to Morocco and salt south from Taoudenni. During the colonial period, it was used by the French as their military headquarters for the war against the nomads. [Map detail ] PHOTO: 19th century drawing of Timbuktu
19th century drawing of timbuktu

Taoudenni is a site in northern Mali, about 700 kilometers north of Timbuktu in the Sahara Desert. In the past, it was the source of rock salt mined in slabs (barres) and shipped by camel to Timbuktu, and from there to markets all over West Africa. More recently, it serves as a prison for the government of Mali.

The Upper Senegal Valley is the region beginning roughly at the Faleme River (a tributary of the Senegal River--see Bambuk) and extending eastward beyond Bafoulabé where the Bakhoy and Bafing Rivers join to form the Senegal. A large waterfall at Felou, just upstream from Medine, limits navuigation into the region from the coast. Until 1895, this region was administered as the military territory of Haut-Sénégal et Niger with the headquarters located at Kayes. After civilian rule was established, Kayes remained the colonial capital briefly until railroad construction resumed. The capital followed the railroad and by 1904, the French established the capital in Bamako. [Map] PHOTO: Upper Senegal Valley landscape

upper senegal valley landscape

Map of sites along the "Railroad Corridor"
in Mali and Senegal

map of railroad corridor
Go to Table of Contents