Banjul ( ), officially the City of Banjul, is the capital and fourth largest city of The Gambia. It is the centre of the eponymous administrative division which is home to an estimated 400,000 residents, making it The Gambia’s largest and densely populated metropolitan area. Banjul is on St Mary’s Island (Banjul Island), where the Gambia River enters the Atlantic Ocean. The population of the city proper is 31,301, with the Greater Banjul Area, which includes the City of Banjul and the Kanifing Municipal Council, at a population of 413,397 (2013 census). The island is connected to the mainland to the west and the rest of Greater Banjul Area via bridges. There are also ferries linking Banjul to the mainland at the other side of the river.
Banjul takes its name from the Mandinka people who gathered specific fibres on the island, which were used in the manufacture of ropes. Bang julo is the Mandinka word for rope fibre.
In 1651 Banjul was leased by The Duke of Courland and Semigallia (German: Herzog von Kurland und Semgallen) from the King of Kombo, as part of the Couronian colonization.
On 23 April 1816, the King of Kombo ceded Banjul Island to Alexander Grant, the British commandant. Grant founded Banjul as a trading post and base, constructing houses and barracks for controlling entrance to the Gambia estuary and suppressing the slave trade. The British renamed Banjul Island as St. Mary’s Island and named the new town Bathurst, after the 3rd Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies at the time. Streets were laid out in a modified grid pattern, and named after Allied generals at the Battle of Waterloo. The town became the centre of British activity in the Gambia Colony and Protectorate.
After independence, the town’s name was changed to Banjul in 1973. On 22 July 1994, Banjul was the scene of a bloodless military coup d’état in which President Dawda Jawara was overthrown and replaced by Yahya Jammeh. To commemorate this event, Arch 22 was built as an entrance portal to the capital. The gate is 35 metres tall and stands at the centre of an open square. It houses a textile museum.
Banjul is the third largest city and capital of Gambia, the smallest nation on the African continent. In 2003 the city had a population of 357,238 people or about 19% Gambia’s total population of 1.89 million people. The city’s name is from a local Mandinka word for a distinct fiber that was previously harvested on the island for making rope. Banjul occupies an area of 12 square km, or 7.5 miles, and lies at the mouth of the Gambia River on the edge of a small island called Banjul or St. Mary’s Island. The city has a subtropical dry and wet climate with heavy rains from June to October and Harmattan winds that blows during the dry season.
The history of Banjul began long before the first Europeans arrived. It was settled some 10 Centuries ago by African ethnic groups from the interior. The British arrived on April 23, 1816, founded a town and named it Bathurst after Henry Bathurst, the Secretary of State for the British Colonies. The British chose this location because they needed a way to better control access to the Gambia River and enforce the Slavery Abolition Act of 1807. The act not only prevented British involvement, their warships also stopped American, French, Portuguese, and Spanish vessels still engaging in the slave trade. Over the next 20 years Bathurst would become one of the West African hubs for British anti-slavery naval activities.
By 1843 Gambia had become a colony with its own Governor. In 1889, however, the town was declared the capital of the newly established Crown Colony and Protectorate of Gambia. When Gambia became an independent nation in 1965, Bathurst was named the nation’s capital. Gambian officials changed the city’s name from Bathurst to Banjul in 1973.
The landmarks and festivals around Banjul reflect the area’s rich culture. Arch 22, located at the end of the Independence drive, commemorates the bloodless coup on July 22, 1994. A museum within the arch displays the country’s history and culture. Wildlife is plentiful around the city and the River Gambia National Park has a host of different animals. Banjul Demba is the most popular of the local festivals. Celebrated during the first week of January, the festival puts local and traditional culture on display. The May Day sports festival is celebrated on May 1st and draws people from around the greater Banjul area.
Banjul is a diverse city and has many different ethnic groups including the Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Jola, and Seres. Although tribal languages frequently spoken on the streets of Banjul, English is the official language. Islam is the most popular religion with more than 90% of the population practicing the faith.
Banjul Division (Greater Banjul Area) is divided into two districts:
The University of the Gambia was founded in 1999.
Places of worship
Among the places of worship, they are predominantly Muslim mosques. There are also Christian churches and temples : Roman Catholic Diocese of Banjul (Catholic Church), Church of the Province of West Africa (Anglican Communion), Assemblies of God.
The primary method reaching the city by land is by roadway. A highway connects Banjul to Serrekunda which crosses the Denton Bridge, however ferries provide another mode of transportation. As of May 2014, ferries sail regularly from Banjul across the Gambia River to Barra. The city is served by the Banjul International Airport. Banjul is on the Trans–West African Coastal Highway connecting it to Dakar and Bissau, and will eventually provide a paved highway link to 11 other nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
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