Languages: Tingrinya and Arabic (official), Tigre, Amharic, Afar, Bilen, Bedawi, Kunama, Nara, Saho,
After Sudan, what a relief it was to be in a place free of religious oppression where Copts, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims can co-exist harmoniously.
Eritrea is a new independent country having seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, only two years before my visit. The territory that is now Eritrea had belonged to the ancient but discontinuous Abyssinian Empire since its legendary beginning in the 10th century BC. Some of its coast had been occupied by various Muslim forces since the 7th century until the Italians gained a foothold in 1869 and finally occupied all of it as an agricultural colony at the end of the last century. The Italians built roads, railways, ports and plantations but also schools and hospitals. Mussolini invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea in 1936 but was defeated by the Allies in 1941. Eritrea then passed into British hands until the UN decided to federate it with Ethiopia in 1952.
The Arab, Italian and British influences and a greater degree of development of Eritrea caused difficult relations with larger but more backward Ethiopia. Ten years later, the annexation of Eritrea by the Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie brought on a civil war that was to last 30 years before Eritrea was freed.
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Asmara was a small provincial town of about 400 000 people not yet accustomed to its new status of capital of an independent country when I visited it in 1995. It is clean and has a definite Mediterranean look due to the long Italian presence. There are a lot of cafés and bars on the main street, called Liberation avenue, and they serve beer and all sorts of alcoholic drinks which is great after a trip in Sudan.
This is the Ancient St-Mary's Coptic church next to the new Coptic Kiddisti Mariam (St Mary's Cathedral).
And here is the new Coptic Kiddisti Mariam (St Mary's Cathedral) next to the Ancient St-Mary's Coptic church! I went in to see the service and nobody complained.
The Eritreans are black skinned but they have delicate facial features which are close to the western canons of beauty. They are definitely a handsome people.
Asmara's large Lady of the Rosary Catholic Cathedral and monastery was built by the Italians in 1922 right in the middle of town on the street now called Liberation Avenue.
The city's largest Mosque, called Jamia al Kulafae, was not far but more discreetly located.
Via Gonnar with the Kidane Mehret Cathedral at the other end. The cross street leads to the central market as full of colours noises and odours as any self respecting market should be.
Asmara also has some good restaurants serving abyssinian specialties which generally consist of meat served with a very hot Berbera sauce on njera, a kind of pancake that replaces bread. In one of them close to my hotel, I had the pleasure of meeting this young lady, Senait Teame, who was studying to be a doctor like her father. Now you have proof of how attractive the Eritreans can be!
I really enjoyed Asmara, it's one of the places in east Africa that I will gladly visit again if the occasion arises. Finally I had to go and boarded a plane for Sa'ana.