26 interesting facts about Eritrea

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Ancient ruins, a tank graveyard and one of the oldest human skeletons, these are the most interesting facts about Eritrea.

Several interesting facts about Eritrea stem from its location
Several interesting facts about Eritrea stem from its Red Sea location (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: State of Eritrea
Population: 6,147,398
Area: 117,600 sq km
Capital city: Asmara
Major languages: Tigrinya, Arabic, English, Tigre, Kunama, Afar
Major religions: Sunni Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Time zone: UTC+3 (East Africa Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Eritrea

1. Eritrea is located in East Africa on the Red Sea bordering Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan.
– Source: Britannica

2. The name Eritrea comes from the ancient Greek “Erythra Thalassa” meaning the Red Sea, which is the major body of water bordering the country.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

3. One of the oldest human skeletons of its kind was discovered in Eritrea. In 1998, a one-million-year-old hominid skull was found near the village of Buia in Eritrea, near the Red Sea coast.
– Source: Discover Magazine, Nature Journal

4. Between 300 AD and 600 AD, Eritrea formed part of the kingdom of Aksum. Aksum was a powerful ancient kingdom in northern Ethiopia that was the “greatest market of northeastern Africa” trading as far as Alexandria and beyond the Nile River.
– Source: BBC News, Britannica

The Aksumite ruins of Qohaito
The Aksumite ruins of Qohaito (Shutterstock)

5. One of Eritrea’s most famous Aksumite ruins is the city of Qohaito. The site features the four columns of the Temple of Mariam Wakiro which are believed to have been a pre-Christian church. It is surrounded by the remains of six other temples and several rock-art sites, including the cave of Adi Alauti and another shelter with over 100 painted figures.
– Source: Lonely Planet

6. Eritrea was colonised by Italy in 1890 until Britain took over in 1941 during the Second World War. Britain then administered Eritrea as a United Nations trust territory until 1952.
– Source: BBC News

7. Eritrea was initially established as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952. However, in 1962 Ethiopia annexed Eritrea which sparked a 30-year guerrilla war for independence.
– Source: BBC News, CIA World Fact Book

8. In 1991, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) captured the Eritrean capital Asmara and formed a provisional government before voting for and gaining complete independence in 1993. The war had killed at least 250,000 people over its course.
– Source: BBC News1, BBC News2, Cousin, Tracey L (2007) Eritrean and Ethiopian Civil War. American University: Washington DC

An unidentified Eritrean young soldier in 2001
An unidentified Eritrean young soldier in 2001 (Shutterstock)

9. In 1998, Eritrea fought a two-year with Ethiopia over border disputes which cost a further 100,000 lives.
– Source: BBC News

10. The port city of Massawa (main image) was once known as the “Pearl of the Red Sea” thanks to its picturesque waterside location and range of Ottoman, Egyptian and Italian-era architecture. However, the city was badly damaged during the war of independence.
– Source: Lonely Planet

11. The Eritrean flag features triangles of green, red, and blue and a yellow emblem. The red reflects the blood shed for independence, the green and blue represent the agricultural wealth and maritime resources, respectively. The yellow olive branches and wreath.
– Source: Britannica

12. The 30 leaves on the wreath reflect the number of years of civil war that led to Eritrean independence.
– Source: Britannica

The flag of Eritrea
The national flag is responsible for two interesting facts about Eritrea (Shutterstock)

13. The UNESCO-listed capital city Asmara is considered a “Modernist African City”. Developed from the 1890s onwards as a military outpost for Italian colonialists, Asmara is recognised as an “exceptionally well-preserved example of a colonial planned city”.
– Source: UNESCO

14. Asmara means “they [women] made them unite,” which according to oral tradition refers to the women of the four clans in the Asmara region who persuaded their menfolk to unite and defeat their common enemy.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

15. The city is home to one of the world’s finest collections of art deco architecture. A range of Rationalist, Futurist, Art Deco and other modernist architecture styles were leftover from the Italian colonial period.
– Source: Independent

An art deco cinema in Asmara
An art deco cinema in Asmara (Shutterstock)

16. Tens of thousands of Eritrean women fought alongside men during the war for independence. It is believed women made up over a quarter (25%) of the army’s fighting force by the end of the conflict. Children born to female soldiers were known as “Red Flowers”.
– Source: BBC News

17. Eritrea is one of the world’s 10 least developed countries. In the 2020 Human Development Index (HDI) it was ranked 10th lowest.
– Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

18. There is a tank graveyard in Eritrea where the ruins of military vehicles from around the country have been dragged to an open field. Local families have made their homes in shipping containers in the centre of the area.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The tank graveyard in Eritrea
The tank graveyard in Eritrea (Shutterstock)

19. As such, Eritrea is a one-party state and does not hold elections. It has been described as “one of Africa’s most secretive totalitarian states”.
– Source: The Guardian

20. Eritrea has the lowest level of press freedom in the world and is ranked last of the 180 countries assessed in the World Press Freedom Index.
– Source: Reporters Without Borders

21. Eritrea has only ever had one president. President Isaias Afwerki came to power in 1993 following independence and remains the only president the country has known.
– Source: BBC News

President Isaias Afwerki and Donald Rumsfeld
President Isaias Afwerki meets US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2002 (Helene C Stikkel, Public Domain)

22. Eritrea is one of the hottest places on Earth when measured by the average year-round temperature.
– Source: BBC Earth

23. Eritrea (along with Ethiopia and Djibouti) is located on the East African Rift Valley which includes part of the Danakil Depression – a geological depression known as the Afar Triple Junction. The Danakil Depression lies at the convergence of three tectonic plates that are slowly being pulled apart. As the earth separates and thins, the land sinks.
– Source: BBC Earth

24. Asmara is home to the Fiat Tagliero service station. Completed in 1938, the striking futurist building was designed to look like an aeroplane.
– Source: The Guardian

the Fiat Tagliero service station in Asmara
the Fiat Tagliero service station in Asmara (Shutterstock)

25. At the monastery of Debre Bizen, which was founded over 650 years ago during the 1350s, a community of monks continue to live a life of austerity.
– Source: BBC News

26. Eritrea is located in a region of East Africa known as the Horn of Africa. The region includes the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, whose cultures have been connected throughout their history.
– Source: Britannica


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