The modern city of Dire Dawa is the second largest in Ethiopia, with a population estimated at around 307,000. It was founded in 1902 under the name of Addis Harar (New Harar) to service the Franco-Ethiopian railway that connects Djibouti to Addis Ababa. Because of its strategic location, the upstart town soon came to outrank Harar in commercial and industrial significance, though even as recently as 1970 it supported a significantly smaller population.
Dire Dawa has been described by some as ‘hot, sweaty and charmless’, to the ire of several people. I am not going to defend or oppose this statement, although the French-designed city center, which consists of a neat grid of avenues which emanate from the central square in front of the railway station, flanked by shady trees and colonial style buildings represents a refreshing change from most other towns in Ethiopia.
What without a doubt is worth a day in Dire Dawa is the railway museum established with the aid of the Alliance Ethio-Française. Rail fans can take a guided tour through what remains of the once great Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia. The museum is centered on the old turntable and engine shed southwest of the station and incorporates the station and its various other workshops along with rusty carcasses of disused engines, train cars and other rail equipment.
Across the traffic circle from the train station is the Mekonnen Hotel; a great place for a cold cheap beers and great people-watching. From around 6pm the sidewalk tables are packed with men talking politics and sipping coffee and beer.
I hope you found this interesting. Please feel free to leave any thoughts, questions or comments that you might have.
Briggs, Philip (2012-09-24). Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guides). Bradt Travel Guides. Kindle Edition.
Planet, Lonely; Jean-Bernard Carillet; Tim Bewer; Stuart Butler (2013-05-01). Lonely Planet Ethiopia, Djibouti & Somaliland (Travel Guide). Lonely Planet Publications. Kindle Edition.