Don't Miss Places In Eritrea
Eritrea became an independent country in 1993, after a long war. It had been a province of neighboring Ethiopia. The history of Eritrea has been linked with that of Ethiopia since the A.D. 300s, when the area was part of the powerful ancient Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum. Eritrea became first an Italian and then a British colony, rejoining Ethiopia in 1952. Eritrea is a small country on the coast of the Red Sea. Most of the land is mountain and desert. The narrow coastal plain includes some of the hottest places on Earth – in the port city of Mitsiwa.
The average annual temperature is a scorching 88° F (31°c). In this harsh landscape, growing food is not easy, but irrigation projects have helped in some areas. Only five percent of the land is cultivated and many Eritreans live a nomadic life, herding sheep, cattle and goats. The country has a rich mix of ethnic groups speaking several different languages such as Tigrinya and Saho, but Arabic is commonly spoken as well.
These attractions are the not to be missed places in Eritrea:
Cathedral of Asmara (Saint Joseph Cathedral)
The Saint Joseph Cathedral is the Cathedral of Asmara and it is located at Harnet Avenue, the main avenue of the capital. It was built in the period of Italian colonialism by architect Oreste Scanavini who was inspired to do the design in Lombard Romanesque style with the overall use of brick. From its 57 meter high tower, you can see a fantastic view of the city. This church is the official symbol of Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.
The Cathedral of Asmara helps to bring guests back in time. It is a spectacular and spiritual place at the same time. The Sunday service usually starts at 9:30 AM. The choir is accompanied by Italian singers. The sacred church also includes an asilo, courtyard, garden, and a theater where you can watch plays making it an interesting place to visit. In the courtyard of the cathedral is a kindergarten (after lunch, it is especially nice to watch the kids groups play and interact with each other and admire the invigorating landscape). On a clear day, and if you can climb up to the tower (be careful because the structure is a bit old and narrow) you will enjoy an excellent view of the city’s 360 degree panorama.
Fiat Tagliero was and is the symbol of Asmara. This gas station in futuristic style was the example of how strong the Italian culture is in Asmara and how determined was the will to accompany Eritrea to the path of modernity, development, and coexistence with the motherland. Now, it is the symbol of Asmara because it clearly shows the decline of what was, and which is now no longer (and will never be). Only fifteen years ago the Fiat Tagliero was a living reality and lived; now it's just a "grave" littered with abandoned rusty cans, debris and fallen down cars. However it is still imperative to see it to understand the story.
The building serves as the emblem or landmark of futurist architecture. It was designed by architect Giuseppe Pettazzi and is originally a gas station with an attached garage, hence the name, because the FIAT everyone knows and Tagliero was the name of the dealer in Eritrea. Its forms in futuristic style represent a plane with the two wings of reinforced concrete which have an overhang of 15 meters.
The project as it was presented originally, did not have the approval of the competent authorities who felt that without support at the ends of the wings would make the structure collapse. The designer, trusting on his genius ability and designing skills had built the two brackets with scaffolding furniture which appeared externally with the help of a reinforced concrete. During the opening day in 1938, suddenly the two supports were gone and the wings still stand in the sun Asmarino without posing any problem. The station is being restored (the rehabilitation plans look great, however, it will still take some time) and probably will include a restaurant. It is an excellent example of architecture that resists time and that strikes at the heart of the story struck between the pages of history that is forgotten by too many people.
Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque
The Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque is a stunning shrine amidst the striking city of Asmara. The Mosque is located in the center of Asmara and surrounded by a religious environment and merchants of sacred images and articles as souvenirs. For non- Muslims, a permit to visit the Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque is necessary. If you intend to make a tour (whether group or solo) of the mosque you must arrange with a conductor (not an imam) who will firmly advise you to ask first from their office for an appointment. First, you must walk your way towards the left side of the bookstore where the office of the mosque is located. It just looks like a bookstore, but it is the working library of the mosque.
In the back of the store between empty shops you will find the office, the authorized officer will welcome you, make some calls if the time requested by you is available, and arrange your scheduled visit of the sacred Mosque.
Visiting time is usually scheduled around 10:30 AM, when there are not much people and so as not to disturb anyone praying. The interior looks like an average mosque, the carpets are worn and everything does not show opulence and being grand. The wash area is actively used, and the courtyard looks solemn upon entrance. Shoes must be left behind the entrance door and observe the faith in silence aside from wearing modest and decent clothing both for men and women.
Nda Mariam Orthodox Church
The Nda Mariam Othodox Church is a beautiful Orthodox Church in Asmara and the most characteristic. If you stand from the square you can see the bell of the Orthodox, the Muslim minaret of the Al Khulafa and the bell of the Christian church (Cathedral of Asmara) and confirmation of civilized coexistence of all religious denominations that is present in Asmara. The remarkable church is not just a place of worship that draws so many devotees and pilgrims but also contain beautiful art works built by the Italians and dedicated to the country. It is a place of worship that is very dear to every Asmarini. It is also dear to the Italians and it is one of the most visited placed in the capital city. Architecturally, the complex is very attractive. The interior is very exotic and definitely worth a visit.
Nda Mariam, the Coptic Cathedral of Asmara is one of the famous landmarks of the city. The church dominates the capital having been built on a hill close to the summit along the eastern side of Harnet Avenue. The square in front of the church is a favorite meeting place and covers in a nearly straight line the Coptic crosses on the gate of the courtyard of Nda Mariam. It is best to go there at sunset. The beautiful facade with the base structure of the church is enclosed by two majestic towers. The interior is unfortunately a bit disappointing, but you can choose to access the garden next to the left side of the church. There are small stone benches in the shade of trees surrounded by pink pepper (interesting!) There are beggars, priests, or simple passers by who want to soak in the contemplative peace of the only quiet place across Asmara.
The present church was built in 1938 during the occupation of Italy. This church replaced an earlier structure that was built in 1920 which, in turn replaced a previous Coptic church. The architect should be done by Gallo although the original design seems to be done by the famous Cavagnari. The complex consists of three bodies of pre-fabricated structures. On its two sides are the towers that contain bells. The interior is decorated with precious frescoes dating back to 1939 and representing episodes from the Old Testament as well as the life of Saint Mary. The church creates a vivid impression as it stands beside other religious structures in Asmara. It is full of enthusiastic parishioners who deliver an interesting ceremony every Sunday. If you intend to visit, you must leave your shoes outside when entering this landmark church in Eritrea.
A visit to the main street of the capital of Eritrea is definitely worth a visit if you are in Asmara. Here, you can sit at a cafe and observe a typical day in the city. If you are lucky you can also experience the thrill of seeing the current President running past when he drives to and from his palace. Liberation Avenue is the main artery of the capital. It is usually seen in old postcards, stamps and photographs about Eritrea.
This prominent avenue contains the major attractions of the city. Travelling by bike here is prohibited. It is a major avenue with charming Italian cafes that must not be missed under any circumstances while in Asmara. The line of cinema, theater, museums, and religious cathedrals are all worth a visit. Both sides of the boulevard show signs of progressive development for the country because it is dotted with shops, business establishments, luxury hotels, and services.
Synagogue of Asmara
The Synagogue of Asmara was built in the years 1905 -1906 for the small Jewish community settled during that time in Eritrea. The facade of the building is covered with symmetrical white mosaic tiles. The building is striking in its appearance and a bit near with the row of cathedrals and mosques. However, it always seems closed and a visit must be arranged in advance in their office if you want to explore its interior and observe the faith and their followers.
The entrance gates are always locked, but taking pictures outside the synagogue is not prohibited. The place is regarded as historical and the country recognizes the major contribution of the Jewish community in gaining back their freedom in 1993.
National Museum of Asmara
The National Museum of Asmara is a tiny museum with an entrance ticket that costs 50 Nakfa. It presents and helps every guest understand very well the difficulties this beautiful nation went through in the past. The small place is categorized in order of their timeline in Eritrea’s history. It stars from pre-history, the modern times, a few ethnographic objects and preserved artifacts about Eritrea. One room contains several stuffed animals and makes everyone see how once there was a fair amount of wild animals, including leopards and lions. A tour of the museum is best organized by a local travel agency.
The national museum is not easy to find, but basically it is not that far from the central part of the city and accessible on foot. The historical details shown are really worth seeing despite its modest presentation. The story of Eritrea is tragic and deserves a moment of silence to pause and offer a deep thought for the Europeans and Africans who bravely faced everything in the name of freedom. Everything here is perfectly preserved and even the artifacts from Adulis are truly worth seeing. A voluntary donation for the upkeep of the museum is requested at the end of the tour.
Asmara Theater and Opera House
The Asmara Theater and Opera House is one of the structural legacies from the Italian colonial era. It is right across the Pizza House at the Harriet Avenue. The access from the main road is usually open because the entrance to the open house is a simple restaurant where anyone can afford a drink. But from there you can not view the building. You can ask the service crews in the restaurant and they will show you the way through its back entrance.
If you knock on a small door, someone will open and very enthusiastically welcome you to the opera house. It opens up to the stage entrance, so that you can stand on the stage too. The opera works from the inside and it is quite well preserved, much greater than from the outside and with magnificent ceiling paintings and several floors. However, appearances or performances seem to be quite rare. The Asmara Theater is built in Neo-classical style and is very nice to look at even if it needs restoration.
Casa Degli Italiani (House of the Italian)
The Casa Degli Italiani (House of the Italian) was created as a meeting place for the Italian community of Eritrea which was once forbidden to any Eritrean native but now accessible for everyone. It has an outdoor space with tables and includes a bar and a restaurant where they serve mostly Italian dishes. It is easily accessible from the Harnet Avenue; the principal street of Asmara. On its side stands the renovated Hotel Italy, one of the most known hotels of the city.
Ferrovia Coloniale Massawa-Asmara
Do not miss a ride on the train called the Ferrovia Coloniale Massawa-Asmara if you’re in Eritrea. The narrow gauge line joined until 1943 the city of Asmara (plateau) with the city of Massawa on the Red Sea. It’s obvious that this train exists since the time of the colony, but there is no nostalgia. This railway is a remarkable feat of engineering that surpass incredible passion and expertise. The locomotives and wagons go back and it is still a steam train. It doesn’t start from Asmara, but from a city in Mediopiano. However the journey down to the Red Sea is the exciting part of this railroad adventure. Black smoke (be conscious of your light clothes!) coming out of the chimney, the train whistle that seems to come from a movie, the crossing of the various landscapes from Eritrea to the Red Sea, if it still works, it's a miracle. The railway still works and this is a trip that is highly recommended and must book directly from any tour operator in the city of Massawa.
Obviously, the train is very precarious because it is now old and suffered broken techniques along the way, but the expertise of the railroad operator has always solved everything. The route makes ample twists and turns in an environment with extreme characteristics and passes under dark and narrow tunnels, the noise is deafening and the steam / smokes of the locomotive enters the open windows, and despite the cold, “try" to see the idyllic scenery. The whole journey is filled with breathtaking views, tunnels and bridges suspended over the void of vast valleys and high precipices. As a treat, every traveler is offered a delicious cinnamon coffee prepared according to the Eritrean tradition by a friendly girl. It is truly an experience to see this national treasure or “The Train in the Clouds” of Eritrea.
Eritrea is a wonderful country, a hidden jewel of Africa. A tour around the attractions is like taking a leap into the past and you’ll have an impression that this is still a part of Italy because every structure, museum, engineering and architectural wonders show how much Italy has greatly contributed in molding the country’s culture and history. If you need variety and new things to savor and experience in you’re travel itinerary of Africa, do not miss a visit to Eritrea.