Eritrea: Highlighting Tourism – Development and Main Attractions (abridged version)

by MMC
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Tourism is one of the largest and most important economic sectors in the world. It is estimated that more than a billion tourists travel to an international destination each year, while domestic tourism continues to grow. Today, tourism accounts for a large portion of global gross domestic product and also accounts for a significant percentage of total global exports. Much empirical work around the world has recognized tourism as an important determinant of economic growth and, although estimates vary, it is estimated that the tourism sector employs around one in ten people worldwide. At the same time, it provides livelihoods and income-generating opportunities for hundreds of millions of others.

Tourism notably stimulates investment in new infrastructure and human capital, can help preserve the natural environment, cultural assets and traditions, and can help reduce poverty and inequality. (For example, women make up more than half of the workforce in the tourism sector.) Tourism also increases foreign exchange reserves, which is particularly vital for many developing countries; Empirical analyzes suggest that for the world’s forty poorest countries, tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange.

Eritrea in the spotlight

Although Eritrea is far from the largest in terms of geographical area (covering an area of ​​approximately 125,000 km²), it has a wide range of tourist attractions. Perhaps the most popular and best known is the capital, Asmara, officially recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and described as “an outstanding example of early modernist urban planning of the early 20th century and its application in a African context”. . In Asmara, more than 400 modernist buildings remain, many of which are well preserved. These include Fiat Tagliero, Cinema Impero, Central Post Office and Bowling Alley, to name a few. Additionally, Asmara features an assortment of public and private historic buildings, including cinemas, stores, banks, religious structures, public and private offices, industrial facilities and residences, representing some of the finest examples of Art deco, cubist, expressionist, futurist. , Neoclassical architecture.

Beyond architecture, Asmara offers a delicious and unique culinary experience marked by a rich diversity of dishes, a warm and hospitable climate, a polite and welcoming local population, and unchanging peace and security.

Another of Eritrea’s main attractions is Massawa, along the Red Sea, and a vast constellation of islands, including Dahlak Kebir. Massawa is home to an assortment of historic sites, while the extensive coastline – which, at around 1,900km long, makes it one of the longest in all of Africa – is pristine, offering opportunities for swimming, hiking, snorkeling and water sports. The islands of Eritrea, on the other hand, offer the opportunity for world-class scuba diving, as well as the chance to visit ancient Turkish and Islamic ruins. Some of the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came to Eritrea in 615 to seek protection, meaning that Eritrea became one of the first non-Arab places of contact with Islam. This long history is marked by the Sahaba mosque, among the oldest in Africa, as well as the Sheikh Hanafi mosque in Massawa, 500 years old.

Eritrea also has a very diverse flora and fauna, both terrestrial and marine. Among the country’s most important ecosystems are the coastal and island marine ecosystems of the Red Sea. The waters off Eritrea’s coastline contain more than 1,100 species of fish and 44 genera of stony corals, resulting in one of the highest levels of endemism and species diversity ever recorded for a marine area. ‘water. Remarkably, about 18 percent of fish species and 20 percent of coral species are believed to be endemic to these waters.

Additionally, between 380 and 400 km of the coasts of the Eritrean mainland and islands are occupied by mangrove forests, with three of the seven mangrove species found in the Red Sea found on the Eritrean coast. As for the mainland, Eritrea has a unique population of North African elephants and the world’s only viable population of free-ranging African wild asses (donkeys). The country is also home to a number of other globally rare and endangered species, such as the Nubian ibex and several gazelles. Several years ago, a long-extinct species of gazelle, the Eritrean gazelle, was also rediscovered after almost 90 years.

Additionally, although a number of surveys are ongoing, it is estimated that there are between 550 and 600 bird species in Eritrea (comprising a mix of resident and regular seasonal migrants). In recent years, studies have also recorded more than 10 species of reptiles (mainly lizards) in the country. Interestingly, a species of amphibian, the Asmara toad, thought to be extinct, has recently been rediscovered, while the Eritrean side-necked turtle, a species found only in Eritrea and whose feared extinction, was observed again several years ago. Eritrea’s plant and agricultural biodiversity is also considerable. The country is the center of origin of several major crops and there are clear indicators of rich genetic diversity, both in cultivated and wild forms. Additionally, the northern and southern Red Sea regions are home to some of the last coniferous and deciduous tropical forests along the Horn of Africa.

Beyond those featured above, Eritrea has a myriad of other beautiful, albeit lesser known, attractions. Accordingly, the following paragraphs focus on shedding revealing light on these charms. (Note that what is presented below represents only an extremely brief sampling of what is actually an extremely long list of personal favorites.)

Nakfa is a truly impressive place to visit in Eritrea. “A place of resilience” and a mountain fortress of the EPLF during the long liberation struggle, Nakfa is a small town of great historical significance. It represents a symbol of Eritrean determination and resistance to colonial rule. In 1977, after appearing on the verge of victory, the EPLF strategically retreated to Nakfa due to massive intervention by the former USSR. At Nakfa, they built heavy fortifications, including a forty-kilometer-long maze-like defensive trench in the surrounding mountains. Despite repeated attempts and significant foreign support, the Ethiopian army failed to dislodge the Eritreans from Nakfa. Between 1978 and 1981, the Dergue launched five large-scale military campaigns against the EPLF, none of which were successful. Today, Nakfa is a calm and serene town that not only offers visitors an enjoyable journey and breathtaking scenery, but also a moving look into one of the most important chapters of the country’s remarkable past.

Another must-see is the Tank Graveyard, located in Asmara. For most, it would simply be a huge pile of scrap metal, overflowing with rusting tanks, trucks and other wrecked vehicles, as well as spent munitions and destroyed war materiel. In reality, however, the Tank Graveyard is much more. The destroyed military hardware that fills the cemetery is a remnant of Eritrea’s long war of independence, when Eritrean freedom fighters faced and defeated Africa’s largest and best-equipped army.

Although throughout the protracted conflict, Ethiopia was strongly supported by Cold War superpowers the United States and the USSR (sometimes simultaneously), as well as many other countries, including, among others, Israel, East Germany, Cuba and Yemen, the Eritreans received no substantial international economic, political or military support. They relied mainly on themselves. Since independence, the Tank Graveyard has stood out not only as a proud marker of national liberation and freedom, but also as a powerful symbol and testament to the resilience of Eritreans in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Although Asmara and Massawa tend to feature prominently in conversations about tourism in Eritrea, the country has many other particularly attractive places. Blessed with immense beauty and a mix of cultures, Gash Barka is one such place. Considered the breadbasket of Eritrea, Gash Barka is also the largest region in the country, comprising 16 sub-zones and around 1,000 villages and towns of varying sizes. While Barentu, the region’s capital, is of course a great attraction, with its colorful diversity and vibrant communities, other must-see places include Agordat, Omhajer, Goluj, Tessenei and Habereda’e, the birthplace of Hamid Idris Awate.