Eritrea is an Eastern African country situated between Sudan and Ethiopia. Explore the Red sea coast on a Middle East cruise, as well as wander through the streets of Asmara, its capital, and taste the amazing cultural diversity found in this city. In order to guarantee safe travel, it's important to know a little about the country and its history.
The earliest known history of Eritrea stems back to 3000 BC when it was just a small settlement. Trade between Ancient Egypt and the chiefs of Eritrea was common, starting the beginning of a long history of trading and cultural diversity.
Arabians fleeing from persecution by the Sabean Kingdom immigrated to Yemen, and later to Eritrea where the Kingdom of Axum was founded. The Aksumite empire thrived on trade with their neighbouring regions across the Red Sea, trading spices with India and forming a lasting relationship between the Hindu people and Eritrea. It occupied the territory surrounding the Red Sea from Sudan to Yemen, with its capital city still surviving in the northern area of Ethiopia as the city of Axum.
During the 6th century AD, expansion of the Persian Empire brought conflict to the kingdom of Axum, and by 750 AD the population had been reduced to small settlements which fought between themselves and remained detached until 1557 when it was conquered and seized by Turks from the Ottoman Empire.
Due to its rich history of trade across the Red Sea and previous occupation by European countries, Eritrea has a somewhat more diverse culture than many other African countries. This culture has mainly been influenced by its surrounding countries, and the countries that occupied and ruled it.
Eritrea has nine recognized ethnic groups, of which Islamic beliefs, and forms of Christianity are the most dominant religions. The fashion and music of the region is principally influenced by these groups and Eritrea's recent independence, with brightly colored clothing and music concerning freedom being most popular.
Eritrean cities show a clear Italian influence, with many Italian restaurants to visit and a significant community interest in films from both Italy and America. Since independence, there has been an interest in entertainment with the founding of Eritrea's own television network, and an increase in the production of locally produced films. Take a stroll through Asmara before or after a Middle East cruise and you will see the Italian influence emerge!
Interest in sport is also growing, with football and cycling the most popular activities. Eritrea competes in the Tour de France and other international competitions, as well as in African sporting competitions.
Eritrea's cultural diversity shows through its cuisine. Spiced stews called tsebhi are served with a spongy sour flatbread called injera used for dipping, mirroring the cuisines of Ethiopia and other countries it shares its history with. Eritreans enjoy and prefer their food to be hot and spicy, and there is extensive use of a mixture of spices called berbere. This consists of chili, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, pepper and other locally sourced herbs and spices which give Eritrean and Ethiopian food its aroma and pungency.
Italy has also influenced a lot of Eritrea's cuisine, and the country has variations of Italian pasta and other dishes where berbere is added to offer a unique Eritrean twist. Italian influence is also apparent in Eritrea's beverages, and freshly roasted and brewed coffee is commonly enjoyed, along with honey wine and a home-brewed beer called suwa.
Eritrea is located on the Horn of Africa along the Red Sea where it is bordered by Sudan to the North and Ethiopia to the south. It has a total land area of 121,320 sq kilometers including about 350 islands in the Red Sea, and a varied geography with a centrally located plateau that reaches 3000 meters above sea level at its highest point.
The region is characterized by northern highlands extending to the south met with rolling plains, and a dry desert coastal strip to the east running along the red sea. Because of this varied geography, temperature and weather varies across the country.
When the Turkish empire began to decline in the 1850s, Eritrea and Ethiopia were overtaken by Egyptian rule in a bid for territory across the Horn of Africa, and European powers began to see Eritrea as a valuable hotspot for trading across the East and to India. Italy invaded and gained control over most of Eritrea and a treaty was signed in 1889, recognizing Italian rule.
Italy's sovereignty over Eritrea lasted until World War II broke out, and the British seized temporary control of the country in 1941 as it formed a strategic point for ships to dock. Through Italy and Britain's occupation, Eritrea gained the foundation of a free-standing entity, able to support itself under its own economy and political network.
Ethiopia became interested in Eritrea after the war and developed a political union with the country. In 1953 under UN direction, Eritrea joined in federation with Ethiopia, which lasted until 1962 when Ethiopia decided to annex Eritrea against the UN treaty. This act sparked a furious war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Eritrea battled Ethiopia for its independence up until 1991, and it has become the longest battle for liberation in history. Eritrea's forces began humbly as the Eritrea Liberation Front (ELF), which itself became the subject of violence and reform throughout the 1960s until it was superseded during war by the Eritrea People's Liberation Front (EPLF).
The EPLF was committed and slowly fought back Ethiopian forces over the 1980s and on May 21, 1991, the capital city of Asmara was liberated, bringing an end to the forty years of war. More than 150,000 Eritreans had died during the war, and the country was left under shaky terms with Ethiopia.
Eritrea is a member of the UN and is ruled by a single party called the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), as a presidential republic. Other parties in opposition with the PFDJ are illegal, and there have been no elections since the current president Isaias Afewerki was elected in 1993. The government of Eritrea closed all independent media in 2001, and allegedly arrests and censors critics of its actions. This persecution and the tensions with Ethiopia make it important for travelers to be careful, and consult their embassy for advice before entering the country.
Eritrea has a mostly sunny and dry climate, with variable temperatures. The coastal desert rarely ever has temperatures lower than 18°C, and the western plateau and lowlands can reach as high as 40°C during summer months. The northern highlands are a lot cooler, and night can be freezing cold.
Rainfall is highest in the lower regions of Eritrea, with the western lowlands receiving 600 - 800 millimeters per year and 450 - 600 mm in the highlands. The eastern strip and lowlands receive less than 200 mm of rain, and are the most arid areas.
Eritrea was once home to all of the big game associated with Africa's savannah before it was ravaged by war. A small number of elephants still live in the southern west expanse of the country, but their numbers have dwindled to a mere 50 - 100 animals. Lions are often reported, but claims of their existence in Eritrea are likely to be caused by leopards and caracouls.
The animals most commonly sighted in Eritrea consist of black-backed jackals, gazelles, genets and civets, and small mammals like squirrels, hares, and mongooses. Humpback whales are known to pass the Eritrean islands at certain times of the year and are an attraction that can be enjoyed whilst in Eritrea, along with bird watching and the extensive amount of beautiful flora like olive trees and sycamore figs.