The empire's capital is believed to have been at Koumbi Saleh on the rim of the Sahara desert. According to the description of the town left in 1067, the capital was actually two cities six miles apart but "between these two towns are continuous habitations", so that they might be said to have merged into one.
The major part of the city was called El-Ghaba and was the residence of the king. It was protected by a stone wall and functioned as the royal and spiritual capital of the Empire. It contained a sacred grove of trees used for Soninke religious rites in which priests lived. It also contained the king's palace, the grandest structure in the city.