10 reasons why you should travel to Eritrea right now

Anar Mammadov 20 January 2021 1001 views 7 min. read

, an East African country with a Red Sea coastline. This sea was the route by which Christianity and Islam reached the region where is Eritrea. The state borders Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the south, and Djibouti to the southeast. The country has maritime borders with Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The former Italian colony became part of Ethiopia's federation in 1947, and Ethiopia annexed Eritrea in 1952. Eritrea was marked on the world map as an independent country only in 1993. The country's area is 117,000 km2, which is almost four times the size of Belgium or slightly larger than Pennsylvania in the United States. The capital of Eritrea and the largest city is Asmara (Asmara). It is located on the northwestern edge of the Eritrean Highlands. Other important cities are the ports of Massawa and Assab. The Eritrea population of 6 million people is spoken here-Tigrinya, Arabic and English. About 50% of the population is Christian, and 48% profess Islam. Although the country is not famous for the abundance of tourist interest around it, for a trip to this unusual country you will need only 10 reasons, which we will talk about today. Let's go!

1. You have a chance to visit the "New Rome"


Asmara (capital of Eritrea) is called "New Rome" because a significant part of the city's old buildings were built in the Italian style. After the fascists led by Benito Mussolini captured Eritrea, he tried to turn Asmara into a Small Rome. Therefore, he made many monumental buildings with exquisite Italian architecture. The distinctive Italian flavor in the city is the result of Eritrea's long colonization by the Italians. More than 400 buildings have an Italian architectural appearance, including the "Cinema capitol", "Keren Casa-del Fascio", the Orthodox Cathedral and the villa in Dekemhar among others. Some stores still use Italian names, such as"Ferramenta", "Pasticceria moderma", "Bar Vittoria" and others. Of course, all this atmosphere can not be compared with the original Rome, but to see the concept in this area and conditions is surprising in earnest. Therefore, these Eritrea tourist attractions are not associated with the happiest years for the country.

2. It's part of an ancient kingdom


Aksum is the name of a city and kingdom, which is essentially the modern territory where Eritrea and Ethiopia are located. Studies show that Axum was a major naval and commercial power from the 1st to the 7th century AD. As a civilization, the kingdom had a profound influence on Egypt, southern Arabia, Europe and Asia, who were all guests on its shores, and in some cases residents. The ancient city developed civilization and an empire whose influence, at its peak in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, spread to the regions south of the Roman Empire, from the outskirts of the Sahara in the west, across the Red Sea to the inner Arabian Desert. They developed the only indigenous written alphabet in Africa, the Geez. They traded with Egypt, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Arabia. Despite its power and reputation, very little is known about Axum. There were written scripts, but no stories or writings were found that would have brought this African civilization to life.

3. The Eritrea flag describes the history of the country

flag of eritreaEritrea's first flag

was officially adopted on 15 September 1952, the day the British authorities relinquished control of the area. Its light blue background paid homage to the United Nations (UN) flag, which promoted the country's self-government. In the center was a wreath of two olive branches surrounding a straight branch of green, this also suggested the UN flag. On 23 December 1958, Eritrea flag was replaced by that of Ethiopia, which had annexed the country in 1962. Around the same time, the liberation struggle began. It was led by the People's Liberation Front of the country after 1975. The Eritrea flag of this party, adopted in January 1977, consisted of three triangles: red, green and blue. Red meant the shedding of blood for national liberation. Green and blue indicate agricultural wealth and marine resources, respectively. A yellow star in a red triangle denoted the national mineral resources. Eritrea's new national flag was first officially raised at the declaration of independence on 24 May 1993. It had the previous flag's triangles, but the star was replaced with a yellow version of the three olive branches. And the number of leaves in the wreath (30) corresponds to the years of the civil war that led to independence.

4. Opportunity to visit Dahlak National Park

eritrea beach

Eritrea has the Dahlak Marine National Park on the map on the Red Sea border in the archipelago of the same name. The park is surrounded by water. This beautiful region is rich in its vast ecosystem and unspoilt nature. The water is home to about 300 species of fish and very beautiful shipwrecks for scuba diving. Only four islands are inhabited, with a total Eritrea population of only 2,500 people, who still maintain their traditional way of life — fishing and keeping livestock. The isolated and uninhabited Dahlak Islands and the surrounding rich feeding areas attract large numbers of nesting seabirds from all over the Red Sea. Some islands have shores covered with mangroves or salt marshes. All this together: shallow waters, underwater coral reefs, impressive marine life (dolphins, sharks, dugongs, turtle species, hermit crabs, fish, clams or clams), sunken ships make the Red Sea an unforgettable diving experience.

5. See the ancient symbol of Christianity in Eritrea


After you reach the town of Nefasit, which is the starting point for a two-hour mountain climb, you will finally meet the famous 600-year-old monastery "Debre Bizen". It offers magnificent views of the surrounding hills and up to the Red Sea coast. Surrounded by a grove of rare indigenous trees, the settlement has a pious and medieval, otherworldly and even magical atmosphere. At night, the lights of Massawa flicker in the distance. During the day, the air is cool, and green grass grows between the monastery buildings. The monastery is the most prominent lighthouse and symbol of Christianity in Eritrea, shrouded in legends and Eritrea history. Located on the top of a mountain, at an altitude of 2,450 meters above sea level, the monastery of Debre Bizen was founded by Abune Filipos, a disciple of Abune Tatios, in 1361 AD. The building is a collection of pink granite buildings embedded in huge smooth rocks, which will surprise visitors more than the rest of Eritrea tourist attractions.

6. Eritrea is the supposed birthplace of Pushkin


If you've seen classic images of Alexander Pushkin, you may have noticed distinct signs that betray a non-European heritage. It is known that Pushkin's great-grandfather, Abram Hannibal, came from Africa: having been kidnapped at a young age, he appeared in Constantinople and, eventually, was acquired by the Russian ambassador as a gift to Peter the Great. Having won the king's favor, Hannibal soon became his godson and grew up in the royal family, received a brilliant education and rose through the ranks to become a general and a respected member of the imperial court. According to the original, long-disputed theory, Hannibal came from the small village of Logo in Abyssinia, modern-day Eritrea. It was entirely based on Hannibal himself called the place of his origin "Lagon", which is phonetically similar to an Eritrean village's name. Although today it is often said that Hannibal was an Ethiopian. Eritrea and Ethiopia have declared the poet their own, and the capital of Eritrea has erected a statue to the writer. Despite the fact that Pushkin may not even know where is Eritrea located.

7. Cycling is Eritrea's favorite sport


Brought to the country by the Italians when the country was already their colony, cycling has become today, in many ways, a favorite in Eritrea. The capital of Eritrea, Asmara, controls the rhythm of life by cycling. Most weekends, the capital's major thoroughfares are cordoned off to make way for dozens of cyclists as crowds gather to watch and cheer on participants. On the main highways connecting Asmara with other urban centers in Eritrea, professional cyclists in pronounced T-shirts are often the only sign of traffic for tens of kilometers. Residents have long excelled in the sport, competing as the only black Africans at Olympic cycling events in the 1960s and the first black Africans at the Tour de France in 2015. In short, cycling has become a national obsession that no other sport in Eritrea has ever known.

8. Take a ride on an old Italian steam locomotive

One of the most striking reasons why Eritrea will be chosen on the world map for your trip is a trip on an ancient steam locomotive. The 117 km route from Asmara to Massawa was hailed as a masterpiece of Italian engineering when it was opened in 1912. It then included 29 tunnels, 13 stations, five large water tanks for cooling the engine, and 45 bridges and viaducts, a major feat of technical excellence in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. During its heyday in the 1930s, the line was heavily used as part of Italy's military operations in Ethiopia, carrying tens of thousands of Italian soldiers for dozens of daily services. To a large extent, the highway was gradually restored after the independence of Eritrea. These days, trains run only as charter flights for tourists, covering only 18 km from the original line between Asmara and the small town of Nefasit. The trip will be a trip to the past: to see how real coal is thrown into the furnace, for a speed of only 10 km per hour, leaving a thick cloud of smoke behind.

9. The historically rich city of Massawa


Eritrea's second most important city, Massawa, first gained prominence during Ottoman rule, when Eritrea was a major port in the Red Sea on the map. This factor continued to make Massawa an influential center of power in the Egyptian and Italian periods and the present day. As the center of Ethiopian rule in the country, Massawa was also one of the most famous battles of the Eritrean War of Independence, Operation Fenkil. A battle in February 1990 in which Eritrean forces liberated the city from Ethiopian rule. However then the aerial bombardment of the Ethiopian Air Force, left the old city of Massawa in a state of ruins today. The Ottoman, Egyptian, and Italian eras' architecture is dotted with the old city in various neglected states, giving the city a strange but habitable atmosphere.

10. Battlefields of the Second World War

second world war

The town of Keren (Tigrinya Highlands), located at the entrance to the northern Highlands of Eritrea, is also the center of life for several ethnic groups inhabiting the surrounding rural areas. It should be noted that throughout Eritrea history, popular with modern international tourists of Eritrea due to the weekly market and the nearby camel and cattle market, the city gained special significance as a bastion of Italian resistance against the Commonwealth Army during World War II. While Eritrea's landmarks, such as the battlefields of that era, have long since disappeared into the surrounding desert, Italy's twin cemeteries and the Commonwealth serve as monuments to the conflict. The city center also contains interesting examples of Italian colonial architecture, particularly the former railway station, which is now used as a bus station.

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