Nouakchott was a small village of little importance until 1958, when it was chosen as the capital of the nascent nation of Mauritania. It was designed and built to accommodate 15,000 people, but droughts since the 1970s have displaced a vast number of Mauritanians, who resettled in Nouakchott.
This caused rapid urban growth and overcrowding, with the city having an estimated population of 2 million in 2008 despite the official figures being under a million. The resettled population inhabited slum areas under poor conditions, but the living conditions of a portion of these inhabitants have since been ameliorated.
Nouakchott is the hub of Mauritanian economy and is home to a port that handles 500,000 tonnes of cargo per year. A significant part of the population leads a nomadic lifestyle, setting up tents and relocating within the city. The city hosts the University of Nouakchott and several markets.
Attractions in Nouakchott include the National Museum of Mauritania, several markets including Nouakchott Silver Market, and the beaches. One beach is devoted to fishing boats where fish can be bought fresh. The city hosts the National Library and National Archives. Nouakchott is the principal location in Africa for world distribution of native Saharan meteorites.
There is a mosque donated by Saudi Arabia in the city centre and a Moroccan mosque further south. Although Islam is the state religion in Mauritania, Nouakchott includes the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. It is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nouakchott, founded in 1965.