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Last updated at 14:27 GMT, Friday, 07 March 2014

Another side to Mogadishu


7 March 2014

The Somali capital, Mogadishu, has the unenviable reputation of being one of the most dangerous and destroyed cities on earth. But an exhibition that has opened in London hopes to show that the city has a rich architectural history, some of which has survived the shooting and the shelling.


Mary Harper

A tank left from the war in Somalia

This abandoned tank in Mogadishu has become a children's plaything


Click to hear the report


On the walls of a London gallery hang photographs that tell an altogether different story of Mogadishu. The images, most of which have never before been seen in public, show the compact Arab-style Mogadishu of the thirteenth century. The elegant white Italian colonial buildings that gave it the name 'The Pearl of the Indian Ocean'. The stark socialist structures of the sixties and seventies.

The Somali architect, Rashid Ali, put together the exhibition. He is worried that the current rebuilding of the city, after the return of a degree of stability, will destroy forever what remains of its past…

Rashid Ali, architect:

When this transformation is not based on a kind of a knowledge and without any policies, it's very easy for these buildings to be entirely demolished. My point of view is that these buildings should be preserved and not destroyed at all because they are really important to the country's history.

As well as the photographs and videos in the exhibition, there's an architectural model built by Rashid Ali…

Rashid Ali, architect:

I see culture as a tool for revitalising and rehabilitating the city so this is what I call a miniature city, which is a cultural hub essentially… Artists' studio spaces, there's a library, there's a small cinema, there's a cafe, there's a book shop. It sits on top of a hillside, so you can overlook Hamar Weyne which is the old city and look at the Indian Ocean.

It's as yet unclear whether Mr Ali's dream of a cultural centre for Mogadishu will become a reality. Or whether what remains of the city's past will be preserved. But this exhibition makes clear that Mogadishu has the potential to be a great African city, especially if its architectural past can be included in its future.


Click here to hear the vocabulary



small and close together without much space


attractive and beautiful in a simple way


simple, plain or not containing anything that is not necessary


A state in which things are unlikely to change


kept in good condition


giving new life and energy (to something)


central area where most activity takes place and/or people come together


possibility for something good to happen in the future