ኣስመራ Asmera, أسمرا Asmara
Panorama of Asmara
|- Land||4,694.3 sq mi (12,158.1 km2)|
|Elevation||7,628 ft (2,325 m)|
|- Density||85.2/sq mi (32.9/km2)|
|Time zone||EAT (UTC+3)|
Asmara (English) (Ge'ez: ኣስመራ Asmera, formerly known as Asmera, or in Arabic: أسمرا Asmara, meaning "Live in Peace" in Tigre) is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, home to a population of around 579,000 people. At an elevation of 2,400 meters (7 874 ft), Asmara is on the edge of an escarpment that is both the northwestern edge of the Great Rift Valley and of the Eritrean highlands. Textiles and clothing, processed meat, beer, shoes, and ceramics are the major industrial products. Asmara started with four villages, to being a regional center under Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, to "Little Rome" of Benito Mussolini's unsuccessful second Roman Empire, to being a provincial capital under Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and lastly a national capital of Eritrea.
Asmara was born out of a union of four villages that took place during the twelfth century. Originally, it is said, there were four clans living in the Asmara area on the Kebessa Plateau: Gheza Gurtom, Gheza Shelele, Gheza Serenser and Gheza Asmae. Encouraged by their women, the men united the four clans and defeated the bandits who preyed on the area. After the victory, a new name was given to the place, Arbaete Asmera which literally means, in the Tigrinya language, "the four (female plural) united". Eventually Arbaete was dropped and it became called by the italianized version of the word — Asmara — though there is still a zone called Arbaete Asmera. The westernized version of the name is used by a majority of non-Eritreans, while the multilingual inhabitants of Eritrea and neighboring peoples remain loyal to the original spelling.
Under Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, Asmara began to develop in the 1870s. At the time, Egypt was building an empire in Sudan and hoped to annex Ethiopia. Egyptian determination to annex Ethiopia resulted in the battle of Gundat in 1875 and the battle of Gura in 1876. Ethiopia defeated Egypt in both wars and most of Mareb Melash (present day Eritrea) remained under Ethiopian control. But the war caused a lot of suffering and Asmara was almost deserted.
Asmara acquired importance in 1881, when Ras Alula Engida whom Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia had appointed governor of the region founded a market in that place. A few years later, in 1884, he moved his capital from Adi Taklay to Asmara and had three stone buildings built to house his troops and serve as his banquet hall. About the same time Ras Alula ordered all of the other markets in the Mareb Mellash province closed (which included Sazega and Kudofelasi in modern Eritrea as well as Idaga Hamus in Ethiopia), giving further economic stimulus to Asmara. The population grew from an estimated 150 people in 1830 to 2,000 during Alula's governorship.
Asmara was occupied by Italy in 1889 and became the national capital in 1897. In the early 20th century, a railway line was built to the coast, passing through the town of Ghinda, under the direction of Carlo Cavanna. In both 1913 and 1915 the city suffered only slight damage in large earthquakes. In the late 1930s the Italians changed the face of the town, with a new structure and new buildings; Asmara was called Piccola Roma (Little Rome). While Eritrea was under Italian colonial rule, architecturally conservative early-20th-century Europeans used Asmara "to experiment with radical new designs." Nowadays the major part of buildings are of Italian origin, and shops still have Italian names (e.g., Bar Vittoria, Pasticceria moderna, Casa del formaggio, and Ferramenta).
Asmara was populated by a numerous Italian community and consequently the city acquired an Italian architectural look. The city of Asmara had a population of 98,000, of which 53,000 were Italian Eritreans according to the Italian census of 1939. This fact made Asmara the main "Italian town" of the Italian empire in Africa. In all Eritrea the Italians were 75,000 in that year.
Italy was defeated in 1941, and the British administered the city from 1941 to 1952. In 1952, the United Nations resolved to federate the former colony under Ethiopian rule. In 1961, emperor Haile Selassie I ended the "federal" arrangement and declared the territory to be the 14th province of the Ethiopian Empire.
During the Eritrean war for independence from Ethiopia, Asmara's airport became a key in the conflict, as it was used by the Ethiopians to obtain arms and supplies from outside supporters. The last town to fall to the Eritrean People's Liberation Front in the Eritrean War of Independence, it was besieged in 1990 and was surrendered by Military of Ethiopia troops without a fight on May 24, 1991.
The city is home to the Eritrean National Museum and is known for its early twentieth century buildings, including the Art Deco Cinema Impero, Cubist Africa Pension, eclectic Orthodox Cathedral and former Opera House, the futurist Fiat Tagliero Building, neo-Romanesque Roman Catholic Cathedral, and the neoclassical Governor's Palace. The city is adorned by Italian colonial villas and mansions. Most of central Asmara was built between 1935 and 1941, so effectively the Italians managed to build almost an entire city, in just six short years. At this time, the dictator Benito Mussolini had great plans for a second Roman Empire in Africa. War cut this short, but his injection of funds created the Asmara of today, which supposedly was to be a symbol that Fascism worked and is an ideal system of government.
The city shows off most early 20th century architectural styles. Some buildings are neo-Romanesque, such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral, some villas are built in a late Victorian style. Art Deco influences are found throughout the city; essentially Asmara was then what Dubai is now. Architects were restricted by nothing more than the bounds of their imaginations and were given the funds to create masterpieces which we can see today. Essences of Cubism can be found on the Africa Pension Building, and on a small collection of buildings. The Fiat Tagliero Building shows almost the height of futurism, just as it was coming into big fashion in Italy. In recent times, some buildings have been functionally built which sometimes can spoil the atmosphere of some cities, but they fit into Asmara as it is such a modern city.
Asmara is also home to the University of Asmara and a nineteenth century fort, Forte Baldissera. It is served by Asmara International Airport, and is connected to the port of Massawa by the Eritrean Railway.
Asmara is also the see of the archbishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, which became autocephalous in 1993. The archbishop was elevated in 1998 to the rank of Patriarchate of Eritrea, on a par with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Asmara was known to be an exceptionally modern city, not only because of its architecture, but Asmara also had more traffic lights than Rome did when the city was being built. The city incorporates many features of a planned city. Indeed, Asmara was an early example of an ideal modern city created by architects, an idea which was introduced into many cities across the world, such as Brasilia, but which was not altogether popular. Features include designated city zoning and planning, wide treed boulevards, political areas and districts and space and scope for development. Asmara was not built for the Eritreans however; the Italians built it primarily for themselves. One unfortunate aspect of the city's planning was separate areas designated for Italians and Eritreans, each disproportionately sized.
The city has been regarded as "New Rome" or "Italy's African City" due to its quintessential Italian touch, not only for the architecture, but also for the wide streets, piazzas and coffee bars. While the boulevards are lined with palms and indigenous shiba'kha trees, there are numerable pizzerias and coffee bars, serving cappucinos and lattes, as well as ice cream parlours. The people in Asmara dress in a unique, yet African style. Asmara is also highly praised for its peaceful, crime-free environment. It is one of the cleanest cities of Africa.
The city hosts the We Are the Future center, a child care center giving children a chance to live their childhoods and develop a sense of hope. The center is managed under the direction of the mayor’s office, and the international NGO Glocal Forum serves as the fundraiser and program planner and coordinator for the WAF child center in each city. Each WAF city is linked to several peer cities and public and private partners to create a unique international coalition. Launched in 2004, the program is the result of a strategic partnership between the Glocal Forum, the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation and Mr. Hani Masri, with the support of the World Bank, UN agencies and major companies.
Asmara has been proposed as a possible new addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, under the direction of the Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project, for its outstanding examples of 20th century architecture and town planning. Many of these historic buildings are not currently being taken care of and there is a serious risk that this heritage could be lost.
The Historic Center of Asmara was placed on the World Monuments Fund's 2006 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. The listing was designed to bring more attention to the city to save the center from decay and redevelopment and to promote restoration.
Asmara is the largest city and capital of Eritrea.
18.104.22.168 17:22, 20 May 2009 (EDT)Beer! Asmara beer, great, quenches your thirsty throat and has a good taste. Between beginning of 2008 until beginning of May 2009 it was not available, due to lack of hard currency for buying imported malt. Now it is being distributed all over the country. Asmara brewers have proven they produce a good pilsener beer. 5% alcohol and a nice hop flavour in the well known bottle. Enjoy!!
Asmara International Airport (IATA: ASM) (ICAO: HHAS). Asmara currently hosts the country's only operating international airport although technically there are two more in Massawa and Assab. Currently (2008) served from Frankfurt three times weekly by Lufthansa and twice weekly by Eritrean Airlines, from Sanaa in Yemen twice weekly by Yemenia Airways, from Cairo twice weekly by Egyptair, from Jeddah/Riyadh twice weekly by Saudi Arabian Airlines and twice weekly by Eritrean Airlines as well. Eritrean Airlines also flies twice weekly to/from Dubai and once weekly to Rome with scheduled dates to Milan as well.
Nasair, a private-state joint venture airline also serves Jeddah five times a week as well as Nairobi and Khartoum twice weekly from Asmara as well as domestic routes Asmara - Massawa and Asmara - Assab. There is an airport departure tax of $20 or 15 Euros. Camel caravans are also available:)
Asmara's has 10 downtown bus-lines on distinctive Red Mercedes Benz buses with a sign in the front saying where they're headed (yes, even in English). The bus-stops are easily identifiable (there are signs and the obvious shelter with a bench) but the buses stop running quite early in the evening (at about 7PM). They run on 15 minute to half hour intervals during the day (every day), other than that, there is no schedule. It gets pretty jammed at rush hour (in the morning, midday and around 4PM in the evening). The fare is 1 Nakfa, the entrance is in the back where one buys the ticket, it is not necessary to have exact change but try to stick with the lower denominations. Line number 1 goes between the airport 3 km south of the city, and the zoo in Biet Ghiorghis 2 km east of the city on the eastern escarpment where the windy road to the Red Sea begins. It passes through the main streets in downtown Asmara (Independence Avenue and Martyrs Avenue). All buslines that are number twenty something, run between the marketplace downtown and the surrounding villages. There are only a few a day. So leave early to be able to come home. Only the locals know the schedule (through word of mouth), if you're lucky one of them speaks English and will be very helpful. Some villages like Embaderho and Tselot are well worth visiting for their scenery and traditional lifestyle. There also white minibus-lines running on the main streets of the city, which also run on fixed routes but without stops or signs, they usually stop at the bus stops but you still have to hail them when you see them, just like a cab, ask them where they're headed, unless the ticket-boy (called fottorino) doesn't beat you to it by announcing it loudly, and let them know when you want to get off ("stop" is a universally understood word). The fare is 2 Nakfa.
Finally there are the yellow taxis most of which also run on fixed routes on the main streets just like the white minivans. Same system as the minivans, fare is 5 Nakfa and you'll be sharing the ride with 3 other people no doubt. But not all cabs run on fixed routes, some actually will take you personally to where you want to go, this is called kuntrat (khoon-tratt) and you will have to negotiate the price with the driver. These cabs usually hang out outside the airport when a plane is coming in, the city's main hotels (Intercontinental, Nyala, Ambassador etc.), the road to the right of the main cathedral downtown and other obvious spots. They can also be hailed on any street but chances are that those cabs are on a fixed route with passengers already in them.
Renting a car is insanely expensive and fuel prices are the same as in Europe if not more. Renting a cab to drive you around town is equally senseless when considering the price, it could be worthwhile on a longer trip outside of town but be prepared to pay several thousand Nakfa (a few hundred dollars or euros), it is perhaps better to take the bus or contact one of the national tour agencies (ask at the airport information when arriving).
Asmara's main attraction is its colonial Italian architecture. The palm-lined main street: Independence Avenue, colloquially referred to as "Kombishtato" (a creol of the neighbourhood's original name: Campo di Citta), is full of cafés, bars, shops and old cinemas, it makes for a nice mile long stroll between the north end of this avenue where the "half" stadium is (you'll know when you see half a bleacher) and the south end facing the Nyala Hotel, the city's tallest building. The city's colorful and bustling marketplace lies behind the cathedral on the road to its right (as seen when standing in front of the cathedral's main entrance on Independence Avenue). It's a great place to learn how to haggle and buy some souvenirs.
At the café on the top floor of the Nyala Hotel, one has a great view of the city and a nice well chilled beer. The beer is exceptionally good in Asmara, aptly called "Asmara Beer". Behind the hotel on a more quiet street is the National Museum, with an impressive collection from the land's multimillenial history of civilization. On the outskirts of the city, on the Massawa road, lies the Biet Ghiorghis Zoo and Park area, famous for its scenery on the eastern escarpment. The Zoo in itself is a rather sad place. Further down the road one reaches Bar Durfo, a bar and café perched on a cliff overlooking the dramatic precipice of the Asmara - Massawa highway. You will need a car or taxi to get beyond the last stop of the No. 1 bus beyond Biet Ghiorghis to Bar Durfo.
Another place to see the dramatic highland landscape on the eastern escarpment as well as the traditional Eritrean lifestyle of the rural highlands is the village of Tselot (which means 'prayer' and is also famous for being the President's village). It lies about 20 km outside the city center and is served by one of the red city buses. The landscape essentially consists of an eerily quiet semi-arid plain in a valley, an extension of the highland plateau, interrupted by the dramatic chasm of the eastern ridge which the village center straddles. The dry season from December to April is distinguished by redbrown, rusty, beige or black stone and rubble-colors, resembling photos from Mars. The vegetation consists largely of shrubbery, eucalyptus, aloes, cacti and the odd explosively colorful specs of bougainville, jacaranda or other adorning plants in most villages and towns of Eritrea. The rainy season between May and September (hopefully) brings torrents of rain and needed nourishment to the land, which transforms itself completely from lunar/marsian-esque to verdant, emerald and grassy in the post-rain months of August to October. The rural highlanders lifestyle resembles biblical times. Stone houses, small plots, ancient temples (both christian and muslim), people farming and herding with traditional means using little technology, transporting their goods (as well as themselves) on mule- and camelback.
Near the village, within walking distance is the Martyrs National Park, inaugurated in 2000. It is a mountaineous forest and wildife preserve at the ridge of the highland plateau. The views and scenery are spectacular, the horizon features chasms, gorges and mountaintops bathed by a sea of clouds attesting to the fact that one is very high up literally "above the clouds". Tselot can be reached by one of the city buses from a section of the marketplace called "Meda Eritrea". You should leave as early as possible because there are only a couple of buses per day so you have to make sure you have a way to get back.
If you are in Asmara for a short stay, the best thing to do after you're done sightseeing in this city is to head for the outskirts where the scenery is stunning to say the least. Unless you come from a high altitude area yourself, you need a couple of days of strolling in Asmara to get your body used to the fact that it is 2600 meters (more than 8000 feet) up in the thin dry air. The dry air and midday sun is murder on your skin. Bring lots of sunscreen lotion but also a sweater as it can get really chilly not only at night but even when standing in the shade (temperatures can vary extremely from one side of the same street to the other depending on whether one is in the sun or in the shade). Oh and speaking of shade, most days are completely cloudless and the sun shines very bright in Africa, so unless you enjoy squinting, bring your UV blocking shades. If you like hiking, rock climbing and mountainbiking, the above mentioned areas outside of town are excellent places to do so, but bring your own gear (incuding bike) as there are no rental bikes in Eritrea and a very limited supply of safety equipments (shoes, ropes etc) in Asmara, although tents and mosquito nets are readily available at an affordable price in the marketplace downtown. Also consult the locals and bring a guide, because despite the very low-crime and relatively safe urban setting, it is good to have someone familiar with the place who speaks the language (and English) in case of an accident or any other eventuality (like what is legal and not legal). Taking pictures around any government installation or authority (police, airport, ministries etc.) is strictly forbidden. Finally, take time to savor some good food in Asmara. Don't drink any "fresh" fruit juices or eat any icecream unless you want health issues to mess up your time, stick to the bottled drinks, unpeeled fruits and cooked food.
Gold and silver jewellery is cheap in Asmara, definitely a bargain. So are frankincense and myrrh (if you have any use for it). Otherwise most of the souvenirs bought by tourists are the local home-spun and gold-thread embroidered cotton garments, traditional goat-skin rugs, olivewood carvings, clay coffee-pots and other traditional nick-nacks, all of which are found at the marketplace.
Eritrea is big on Italian food, due to having been an Italian colony between 1890 and 1940. There is a huge range of restaurants in Asmara serving Italian food with Castello being by far the best in quality. Most traditional Eritrean food is quite spicy, and consists generally of very hot meat and/or vegetable stews, eaten over the staple called "injera" a kind of sour-dough pancake or flatbread. Milano Restaurant has the best selection. If you miss McDonalds or KFC sorry to disappoint you, but on the up-side there are many restaurants which make hamburgers using quality organic beef or lamb such as Top Five Restaurant, Portico (on Independence Avenue) and The Mask Restaurant. For Indian and Far East cuisine you can visit the Rooftop Garden, Red Dragon and China Garden.
Drink a lot because Asmara will dry you out. Mineral water is there in abundance and that is really the only water you can drink. Don't drink the tapwater if you value your health. There are also a lot of bottled fruit juices which for the same reasons are a lot healthier than the tempting "fresh" juices at the juice bars and ice-cream parlors. Eritrea is not a big wine country even though once upon a time back in the "good old colonial days" it used to have a wine-making tradition. But on the other hand Eritrea is a big beer-drinking country and the Eritrean beer is definitely a good one if you like lager, pilsner or dark beer (all three of which are made by the country's only brewery, right in Asmara and aptly called "Asmara Beer"). Eritreans, especially Asmarini love their coffee too. Like so much else it is imbibed Italian-style and the city's favorite coffee drink is the macchiato (makyato) ie. 'stained' (that is coffee stained with a touch of steamed milk-froth) which is definitely worth a try if you like strong, sweet coffee.
Nightlife in Asmara is worthless. But on the positive side, Asmara is an extremely safe city, safe enough for a stroll in the middle of the night. Most people are genuinely friendly, without wanting anything in exchange, beggary and "hustling" is not as common as in most other third world countries and neither is tourism. Most people will not approach you unless you approach them and while some speak basic English, the elderly might also know some Italian and a few others also know some Arabic. Dress modestly.
To leave Asmara to go anywhere else in the country you need a traveller's permit which can be obtained from the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality next to Cinema Impero downtown. If you intend to leave by Air, see the "Getting In" section. There are two domestic flight routes as of date and they go to the port cities of Massawa (half an hour's flight and only 110 km northeast) and Assab at the southwest tip of the country by the borders of Djibouti and Ethiopia (an hour and half's flight and nearly 1000 km away). There are roads heading in 4 directions from Asmara. At Asmara's city limits on each of these roads, there are also military-police roadblocks (called "blocco" locally) where you will be checked for your ID and traveller's permit. Always carry these or certified copies of these with you. The blocco for the road towards the coast is placed past the village of Durfo and is called "blocco Batsi" (Batsi is another name for Massawa). The blocco for the road heading west towards the country's second largest town Keren and the western lowlands (bordering Sudan) is called "blocco Keren" and the blocco for the two roads heading south is called "blocco Godaeif" (Asmara's southernmost suburb) which later divides at a fork with one road towards the southwestern highlands and the Mereb river border crossing (now closed) to Ethiopia and the other road towards the southeastern highlands and the "Zalambessa" border crossing to Ethiopia (closed). Besides the bloccos, there are also mobile and random checkpoints on the roads and both inside and outside the limits of nearly all towns and communities in Eritrea. So you will be asked more than once for your papers. Buses run to all main towns and villages from Asmara, some several times a day, others only once a day or a couple of times a week, requiring you to sleepover for one or more nights there or even on the way, before returning. Buses don't run after dusk because of road safety (Eritrea is a very mountainous country) and mist can severely delay traffic as well. Buses are the main means of transport in Eritrea other than camelback or your own car. Renting a car or chartering a taxi is possible in Eritrea, but both cost about the same and are extremely expensive, as is the price of fuel. There is one narrow-gauge train line, from Asmara to Massawa, but it is driven by a slow steam-engine which only runs for chartered tours.
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|National capital||May 24, 1991|
|Elevation||2,325 m (7,628 ft)|
|- Density||32.9/km2 (85.2/sq mi)|
|Time zone||EAT (UTC+3)|
Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea. It is the largest settlement in the country. Asmara has a population of about 579,000 people. Textiles and clothing, meat, beer, shoes, and ceramics are the major industrial products of the city.
Asmara grew from four villages founded in the twelfth century. It is said that there were four clans living in the Asmara area. The women of these tribes told them men to join together to fight bandits who had been attacking the area. After they defeated the bandits, a new name was given to the place, Arbaete Asmara. This name, in the Tigrinya language, meant the four females united. Arbaete was later dropped and the name was made Asmara.
In 1889, Asmara became an Italian colony. It was made the capital of the country in 1897. The city was damaged during earthquakes in 1913 and 1915. During the 1930s, the Italians made many chances to how Asmara looked. Many new buildings were created during this time. This buildings were built in the same style as Italian buildings. This gave Asmara the look of an Italian city. Today many of the buildings and stores in Asmara still have Italian names.
During World War II, after the defeat of Italy in Africa, Asmara was under British rule. In 1952, the United Nations placed the country and Asmara under Ethiopian control. In the 1960s, the Eritrean people started fighting for independence from Ethiopia. This war lasted until 1991. Asmara was given back to the Eritrean people on May 24, 1991.
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