Bamako is the capital of Mali. It is also the biggest city of the country and the seat of government.
Bamako is built on the river Niger, that powers the only hydroelectric power station in the country. There is a university, even though people that can afford it go to study in France.
Bamako probably has over a million inhabitants: it is a city of red dust, giant cow-sized potholes and rampant poverty. Beggars abound in the streets, and so do mopeds, all of them spitting oily smoke - despite its small size, Bamako manages to be quite polluted.
I would not call it a hellhole, but it offers very little to the tourist and the traveller - actually, there is a nice anthropology museum.
Most visitors to Mali only go through Bamako, on their way to Timbuktu and the Dogon Country.
Getting there and away: by plane, by boat (but the port is not in Bamako proper) and by train (all the way from Dakar, Senegal - but only if you have the time), and by car (from Senegal, Bourkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mauritania and even Niger)