Kano Nigeria Eugene Kim FlickrA view over the roofs of Kano from Dalla Hill © Eugene Kim, Flickr

The oldest city in west Africa, Kano is teeming and vibrant with a huge commercial trade centre.

Kano is the oldest city in west Africa, and today is the capital of Kano State. It is a teeming and vibrant city with a variety of interesting things to see. Rather surprisingly, in the 2006 census, the population of Kano State was put at 9,383,682, which was just over 370,000 more than Lagos State. This has been highly disputed and Lagos is generally considered to be far bigger.

Nevertheless, Kano is a huge commercial city founded on the trade of the ancient Sahara routes, and it’s in the centre of a major agricultural region where cotton, cattle and about half of Nigeria’s peanuts are raised. The traffic is especially chaotic here, and the pollution in the city is palpable, especially at the end of the dry season from April to May, when hot fumes scorch your throat. Kano has several districts, including the old city, which is walled and contains many clay houses, giving Kano a medieval atmosphere. The parts of the wall that can still be seen today were built in the 15th century, though as in other northern cities, most of it is seriously dilapidated and eroded.

Kano is popular for its traditional arts and crafts, including weaving and indigo cloth dyeing, and it has long been known for its leatherwork; its tanned goatskins were sent to north Africa from about the 15th century, and were known in Europe as morocco leather. The city is also recognised as a centre of learning – being the seat of Bayero University and the Kano State Institute for Higher Education – and the British Council Library and the Kano State Library are also located in the city. If you are in town at the end of Ramadan, then the traditional horseriding celebrations are not to be missed.

The emirs of Kano and Katsina both hold colourful durbars during the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir and Id-el-Maulud. Performances include charges on horseback, knife swallowers, camels, acrobats, snake charmers, drummers and horn blowers. The city has many good restaurants and accommodation options, and you’ll welcome the coffee and cake shops and Western food.

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