Mauritania, three times the size of Arizona, is situated in northwest Africa with about 350 mi (592 km) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Morocco on the north, Algeria and Mali on the east, and Senegal on the south. The country is mostly desert, with the exception of the fertile Senegal River valley in the south and grazing land in the north.
Mauritania was first inhabited by blacks and Berbers, and it was a center for the Berber Almoravid movement in the 11th century, which sought to spread Islam through western Africa. It was first explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century, but by the 19th century the French had gained control. France organized the area into a territory in 1904, and in 1920 it became one of the colonies that constituted French West Africa. In 1946, it was named a French overseas territory.
\Mauritania encompasses 400,385 square miles (1,037,000 square kilometers), more than three quarters of which is made up of the Sahara desert and the semiarid Sahelian zone. The remaining portion lies along the Senegal River Valley in the extreme south and southeast. The terrain consists of a plateau with vast sand dunes. The climate is hot and dry with frequent sandstorms. The country borders Senegal to the south, Mali to the southeast, Algeria to the northeast, and the Western Sahara to the north. In the southern region, most people engage in agriculture and livestock raising. The people in the south are settled black African farmers, whereas in the north the people have a nomadic lifestyle.
The capital, Nouakchott, is on the on the Atlantic coast. It was chosen a year before independence in 1960. Because the French wanted to transfer power to their Arab-Berber allies, the idea of having a major cities such as Rosso or Kaedi as the capital was ruled out.