Eritrea is a country in the eastern part of the African continent and sits on the horns of Africa. It is one of the underrated nations, some might not even have heard of it. Known for its warrior women, colonial architecture, and tank graveyard, there are many interesting facts about Eritrea that you probably don’t know.
Common Facts About Eritrea
Officially called the “State of Eritrea,” this is a country with an approximate population of 3.7 million people. Eritrea is known for its vibrant culture, rich history, and thereby amazing architectural sites. Here are some fascinating and fun Eritrea facts that offer a glimpse of what the country is about.
Several countries in Africa are prone to armed conflicts and civil/social unrest. Always double check the latest situations from both your government and the local government advisories.
Historical Facts About Eritrea
Eritrea Is Over 300,000 Years
Even though Eritrea is seemingly one of the youngest nations on the African continent, it is actually one of the oldest occupied regions in the world. That’s one surprising fact about Eritrea for many.
In the late 1990s, one of the oldest human skulls in the world was discovered in Eritrea. This skull is suggested to be at least one million years old. The paleoanthropologist who discovered this skull said it is closely associated with the Homo Erectus and Homo sapiens human species.
That discovery takes us back 300,000 years ago of human development. Apart from the skull, pelvic fragments and incisors were retrieved from an ancient lake sediment. This provides proof and suggestions that Eritrea is an ancient region.
Kingdom Of Aksum
Legends have it that there was once an infamous great kingdom in Africa, the “Kingdom of Askum.” The kingdom stretched over present-day Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Tigray. It is suggested that the capital of the kingdom and its social and political center is present-day Eritrea.
The kingdom of Aksum lasted between 100 AD and 940 AD and was famous beyond the shores of Africa. It housed an enormous monolithic stela where the deceased elite were buried.
The kingdom also had an influential presence in the region. It was the greatest market in Northeast Africa and a major trade route between the Middle East and the Roman Empire. We will leave you to decide whether it is true or not.
Still, many have suggested that this region was the home to queen Sheba (A biblical figure) and home to the Ark of Covenant (another significant biblical artifact).
Three Colonial Rules
Here is one of the historical facts about Eritrea that you should know about to understand the makeup of its modern society. The country had brief spells of Italian, British, and Ethiopian rule.
The Italians were the first to take over the reins in 1888 and named it Italian Eritrea. They ruled the country long until the British ousted them in 1941.
After a couple of years under the British administration, the British federated the country to Ethiopia in 1950. Ethiopia presided over Eritrea from the 1950s until it granted her independence.
This is a not-so-known fact about Eritrea. It is one of the last countries to gain independence in Africa. The battle for independence lasted for 30 years, between 1961 and 1991.
Although the country had Italian and British colonial masters, it only had to achieve independence from its neighbors Ethiopia. The country gained de facto independence in 1991, and finally, de jure (‘legally recognized”) independence in 1993 after a referendum.
Useful Facts About Eritrea For Tourists
UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Eritrea
Asmara is the capital of Eritrea. It is considered an exceptionally well-preserved colonial planned city.
Here is an interesting fact about Eritrea and Asmara; it is the only UNESCO world heritage site in the country. It was described as a Modern African City by UNESCO and became a World Heritage site on 8th July 2017.
This makes Eritrea one of the very few countries with their capital city as a UNESCO world heritage site. Another one on the African continent is the capital of Algeria (Algiers [El Djazaïr]).
Did you know the country houses the hottest place on earth? That’s one not-so-famous fact about Eritrea. The Danakil Depression in both Eritrea and Ethiopia is considered the hottest place on the planet earth.
This place sits in the African rift valley and is, interestingly, 300ft below sea level. It also covers a whopping 60,000 square km.
The whole site is covered in salt mines and is one of the most visited areas in the country. So when planning your trip to Eritrea or Ethiopia, pin the Danakil depression as one of the places to visit.
Adulis Port City
Another cool fact about Eritrea is that it houses one of the oldest port cities in Africa. The Adulis port city is a strategic city and an integral area of the Aksum kingdom. Sitting on the gulf of the red sea, it has been reported to host human activities since the 6th century BC.
Adulis experienced its peak year between the 3rd and 4th centuries. It also had a popularity spell in the 7th century. Archeologists have discovered artifacts from powerhouses of that era (Egyptian, Greek, and Roman) in Zula (present-day Adulis). That is why the ruins of Adulis are one of the main tourist attractions in Eritrea.
There are other prominent old port cities in Eritrea. Notable ones include the Massawa port city, which was known as the “pearl of the red sea .”Although this port city was partly damaged during the war for independence, it is still a sight to behold.
And that brings us to our next interesting Eritrea fact. Tourists and locals have voted Massawa as one of the best tourist attractions in Eritrea.
Because of Eritrea’s location and coastline on the red sea, it is no surprise that the country hosts some of the most beautiful beaches in East Africa. And in Massawa, you can find the best beaches in Eritrea.
Massawa is a good destination for unwinding, and you can enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving here. Beyond the beaches, this port city also houses some historical buildings. You can walk through the city and soak in its rich history and culture.
The city of Qohaito house a temple that many believe is a pre-Christian church – the “Temple of Mariam Wakiro.” It is one of the famous historic landmarks in Eritrea.
Apart from the Temple of Mariam Wakiro, the region has 6 more temple ruins that make it an interesting destination. It also hosts some rock-art sites, including the infamous Adi Alauti (A Cave with rock art) and other sites with over 100 painted art figures.
Cultural Fun Facts Of Eritrea
Zigni The National Dish
Due to the country’s geographical location, most of the food in Eritrea is heavily stew-based. You can enjoy some really amazing stew in Eritrea. Fermented bread and food products like sorghum, barley, millet, wheat, and legumes are also common in Eritrean cuisine.
The national dish in Eritrea is zigni. This is traditionally a beef stew, but beef is not the only meat used in making this dish today. Lamb or goat meats are also popular options used to make zigni.
The mat stew is cooked with Berber spices; this is a rich spice mix containing chili pepper, sweet paprika, and turmeric, among other spices. The zigni dish is typically served with injera (a flatbread popular in east Africa), and you can also enjoy it with rice and pasta.
Greeting And Eating Etiquette In Eritrea
The culture in Eritrea is respectful and inclusive. A handshake is the customary greeting gesture, especially for people of the same sex. When you shake someone’s hand in Eritrea, the word “Selam,” meaning “Peace,” should accompany the greeting.
If you are greeting someone from the opposite sex, the man has to wait for the woman to extend her hands first, or you have a verbal greeting, “Selam.”
When eating, Eritreans prefer to use their hands and not silverware. Eating with the hands is a part of the culture in Eritrea. It is not uncommon to see foreigners using silverware, but how will you enjoy the culture if you do something different from what locals do?
Eating with the right hand is the norm. Doing anything like eating, shaking, or passing something to someone with the left hand is frowned upon. The left hand is believed to be impure since it is used for cleaning up in the washroom.
No Official Language
Here is a cultural fact about Eritrea to know about. The country is a multilingual nation and its constitution states that all languages and tribes in the country are equal. Because of that, Eritrea has no official language.
Tigrinya and English language are the most popular languages in the country. However, many more languages like Italian, Nara, Beja, Arabic, and Saho are widely spoken in Eritrea.
The National Sports In Eritrea
Like many other African countries, there are many sports in Eritrea. Traditional activities like testa (traditional martial arts, majorly focuses on headbutting) and gena (traditional field hockey) are well-loved within the country.
Athletics such as half marathons and long-distance running are also common; however, the national sports in Eritrea are Football (or Soccer) and cycling.
Football and Cycling were introduced to Eritrea by the Italians in the 19th century when they took over the region. Eritreans love soccer; however, the sport where the country has seen the most success is running.
In the 2004 summer Olympics, Eritrean athlete Zersenay Tadese won the country its first Olympic medal. For more than 8 years, he held the world record for the half-marathon. To date, Zersenay ranks amongst the top 10 in the world record for half-marathon and 10,000 meters race.
Simple Eritrea Facts For Kids
This is a country located in East Africa. It is bordered by the red sea and three different countries – Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A person from Eritrea is called an Eritrean, while a group of people is called Eritreans.
The Name Eritrea
Legend has it that the name Eritrea originated from ancient Greek. The root word “Erythra Thalassa” birthed the name Eritrea.
Erythra Thalassa means the Red Sea, which borders the country to the northeast.
Asmara is the capital of Eritrea. It is also one of the largest cities in the country, housing over 950,000 of the country’s population.
Asmara has an elevation of 2325 meters and a total land area of 45 square km, making it one of the smallest capital cities in the world.
What A Man Can Do, A Woman Can Do
Here is a surprising demographic of Eritrea. EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front), the country’s freedom fighters, had an incredible female population of over 30%.
The EPLF was supported by the Soviet Union, and they were able to win the war against the Ethiopians. Over a quarter of a million people lost their lives during this battle. However, the goal of independence was achieved in the process, so their death was not in vain.
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Other Interesting Facts About Eritrea
Little Rome In Eritrea
Here is an interesting Eritrea fact, the capital city of Asmara is not short of beautiful nicknames. Many refer to this city as “Little Rome, African Rome, or New Rome.”
This is mainly because Asmara is filled with over 370 Italian architectural-style buildings. When the Italians successfully invaded Eritrea in 1890, Benito Mussolini took it upon himself to transform Eritrea into an Italian city.
His starting point was to build over 300 Italian architectural-style buildings. Some notable structures are the Cinema capitol, the Decemhare Villa, and the Keren Casa-del Fascop. Many of these structures are still standing in the country.
The Name Asmara
Asmara means many things. Primarily it is a gender-neutral name which means “Beautiful Butterfly” in English and “Love” in Indonesia.
However, Asmara in Eritrea means something else; it means “women made them unite .”Based on traditional knowledge, the women of the original four clans of present-day Asmara motivated the men to unite and go up against their enemies.
A cool fact about Eritrea is the existence of a tank graveyard, that is considered one of the biggest in the world. The tank graveyard in Eritrea can be found in Asmara. Depending on your interest in ammunition and military weapons, this famous landmark in Eritrea can be a sight to behold.
The graveyard is filled with old military tanks, trucks, and vehicles. Most of these trucks still hold USSR (Russia) metal plates. These tanks are positioned in such a way that you can walk around them and feel their imposing presence.
As much as this is a rather impressive sight, it also reflects the unfortunate longevity of conflicts in Eritrea. The fight for independence in Eritrea was a long one.
Fish Watching In Eritrea
Here is an interesting fact about animals in Eritrea. The country is home to some rare species of fish; it is said that there are over 10,000 species of fish in Eritrean waters.
Because of its proximity to the red sea, fishing, scuba diving, and marine life watching are some of the popular activities to do in Eritrea. Some of the endemic marine fish in Eritrea include snailfish, deep-water dragonet, tilefish, and stargazer fish, among others.
One Party State
Eritrea has been a one-party country since it gained independence in 1993. This means the country has only ever been governed by one party.
There is actually an even deeper significance to the one-party state in Eritrea than just the primary definition.
Since 1993, Eritrea has only had one president, Afwerki Isaias. All government positions are appointed by the country’s president, and he is also responsible for firing the officials. As such, many outsiders view Eritrea as the North Korea of Africa based on the ruling system.
Flag Of Eritrea
Eritrea is one of the countries with a very unique national flag. The flag has three main colors green, red, and blue. The three colors are in triangle bands, with the green and blue facing the red in opposite directions. The red triangle also holds a gold image of a small tree with 30 leaves.
Like every other flag, all the colors on the Eritrea flag have their significance. The green represents the agriculture and fertile lands of Eritrea. The blue represents the large water body in the country. The red represents the blood shed during the struggles for independence, and the 30-gold leave represents the 30 years of the independence struggle.
If you are an artifact collector or someone who loves ancient discoveries, then you will love this Eritrea fact. It is believed that only Egypt has a larger collection of archeological discoveries in Africa.
Currently, the historical archeological discoveries in Eritrea have significantly increased from 45,000 in the past to around 80,000 in 2022. One of Eritrea’s most famous archeological discoveries was the human skull discovery in 1998, which is said to be over a million years old.
One of the impressive facts about Eritrea is that it is the first country in the world to dedicate its entire coastline as a reserve. The country also produces a substantial number of pearls.
The Dahlak archipelago consisting of two major islands and over 120 smaller islands, is a known region for pearl production in Eritrea as far back as Roman times. The Dhalak archipelago is sparsely inhabited; just four islands in the archipelago are permanently inhabited.
Agriculture In Eritrea
Agriculture plays an integral role in the economy of Eritrea. A huge majority of Eritreans depend on agriculture for their livelihood, as the sector employs at least 75% of the country’s workforce.
Some of the main agricultural activities in the country are fishing and animal herding. Major export products in the country include millet, sorghum, fabrics, and livestock. The mining industry also contributes significantly as they export gold, zinc, copper ore, and silver.
Discovering More Fun Facts About Eritrea
Although Eritrea may not be the first country that comes to mind when considering a travel destination, it is definitely worth learning about. These are just some of the interesting facts about Eritrea but the country is more than meets the eye. From ancient archeological discoveries to its biodiversity in marine life, there is plenty to discover in Eritrea’s fascinating history and culture.