Dire Dawa - The Railway Town
The town of Dire Dawa, which was almost entirely the creation of the railway, sprang into existence in 1902 when the railway builders, advancing inland from the coast, reached that point on the line. The railway company then ran into financial and other difficulties, with the result that construction of the line stopped and the town remained the railway’s terminal for over a decade.
The fourth-most populous city in Ethiopia, Dire Dawa usually elicits strong reactions. It is known for its colourful storefront, tree-lined streets, neat squares, and foreign influence (look for Arab, French, Italian and Greek styles in some of the architecture and design) are a refreshing change from the lack of character in most Ethiopian towns.
Dire Dawa is made up of two distinct settlements separated by the Dechatu stream (seasonal river), which for most of the year is only a dry bed but during the rains flushes into a torrent. , divided by the trash-strewn Dechatu Wadi (seasonal river).
To the north and west of this water course lies 'Kezira'. This is the 'modern' half of the town, which was planned, and at first largely erected, by the railway's engineers. This area consists of the railway station and its installations, stores, and workshops, as well as many houses, shops, offices, and other modern buildings.
This part of town differs from most other Ethiopian settlements in that it was constructed in a carefully thought-out manner, with straight, asphalt roads and well-aligned buildings. It is also unusual in having piped water, which comes from two nearby natural springs, and a drainage system.
On the other side of the river lies 'Megala', site of Dire Dawa's very sub-stantial traditional Kefira market, which handles an immense variety of goods. A melting pot for the peoples of the surrounding region, this market is surrounded by an agglomeration of local Arab-style houses, which are painted in various hues and are set in a maze of winding, unplanned streets.
With camel trains plodding in from the dusty plains and Somali, Afar, and Oromo people hustling about in a variety of different types of traditional dress, this section of town is particularly colorful.
The town is home to cement and textile factories, a number of well-stocked shops, and two hospitals. Local attractions include the nearby caves - some featuring stalactite and stalagmite formations - with prehistoric paintings, evidence that humans have inhabited this part of Africa for more than 20,000 years.