01. At your arrival at the Asmara International Airport, after processing custom formalities you will be transferred at your hotel. In the afternoon you will start with the discovery of Asmara. A guided tour will lead you to the most interesting and unusual places that Asmara, UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers. From October to March Asmara is an explosion of jacarande, ibiscus and cascades of buganville. The beauty of Asmara is not finished here …………. you’ll realize it in person. Filtered by Italian artistic sensibility, Asmara has welcomed practically all the styles of the early twentieth century becoming the Modernist city of Africa par excellence. A sort of white paper where the Italian architects of Italy’s fascist era, far from the constraints of the mother country, could design the city of utopia. A place to test yourself with the most different architectural styles in vogue in the first decades of the last century in Europe. Asmara has the highest concentration in the world of some of the most advanced architectures of the 1930s. Simple geometric shapes of classical proportions are enhanced by slender horizontal curves and soaring stepped towers. We find portholes, loopholes and elongated windows, circular balconies and jutting wings; cylindrical stairwells and arched canopies, curved shelves and bizarre zig zag chimneys, Originally whitewashed, this beautiful city has been enriched by the colors of Africa with apricot and turquoise, burgundy, lime green and pale gold pastels. Marble vases suspended with geraniums and dahlias, and occasionally we discover a Renaissance villa, with wrought iron gates and turret towers, a French castle-tower, or a Palladian villa with Corinthian columns and pink tympanum. Art deco style villas, cubist, rationalist, expressionist, futurist and neoclassical architectures decorate the corners of the city with a western style magnificence that can leave you perplexed. One of the greatest monuments of the city is the Catholic Cathedral of Santa Maria, in pure lombard romanesque style with interior completely frescoed. As well as the National Museum with archaeological finds of ancient civilizations installed in Eritrea and a rich collection of objects, arts, typical clothing of the nine ethnic groups of the country: an anthropological global look of Eritrea. The coptic church Nda Mariam (project of arch. E. Gallo, 1920) built over the ancient one, worth a visit too. The best synthesis about liveliness and colour of ethnic Eritrean groups is the Medeber, a market dated eighteenth century, where artisans in small shops mould objects of all kinds by recycling metal. The Cemetery of Asmara, located on a hill from the red earth, is a place filled with light, colour, sound and it is one of the most important places to get a historic insight into the Italian adventure in Eritrea and it is a place where silence acquires a pulsing resonance and somehow exhausting.With the erect cement wing, 20 meters long that mimic the forms of an airplane, the Fiat Tagliero garage, built in 1938 by Ing. Pettazzi, is one of service stations more unusual in the world. Overnight at Asmara, Albergo Italia or similar
02. Continue visit of Asmara. Located on a highland plateau at the centre of Eritrea, Asmara, a Modernist city of Africa is the capital of the country and is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a colonial planned city, which resulted from the subsequent phases of planning between 1893 and 1941, under the Italian colonial occupation.
Asmara’s urban character and strong urban form exhibits a human dimension in the relationship between buildings, streets, open spaces, and related activities adapted to the local conditions, which embodies both colonial and post-colonial African life, with its public spaces, mixed-use fabric and place-based material culture. These spaces and use patterns also bear witness to interchange and cultural assimilation of successive encounters with different cultures as well as to the role played by Asmara in building a collective identity that was later instrumental in motivating early efforts for its preservation. Asmara’s urban layout with its different patterns associated to the planning phases, illustrates the adaptation of the modern urban planning and architectural models to local cultural and geographical conditions. The ensembles attesting to the colonial power and to the presence of a strong and religiously diverse local civic society, with its institutional and religious places, the elements of the urban architecture (Harnet and Sematat avenues; Mai Jah Jah park, the walking paths, the old plaques with traces of the street names), the buildings, complexes and facilities resulting from the 1930s programmes (the post office building at Segheneyti Street), the cinemas (Impero, Roma, Odeon, Capitol, Hamasien), the schools, the sport facilities, the garages, the residential complexes and buildings, the villas, the commercial buildings, the factories; the cores of the community quarters (e.g. the Italian quarter and market square and mosque square); the major religious buildings, marking the landscape with bell-towers, spires, and minarets, and the civil and military cemeteries which illustrate the diversity of the populations and of their rituals. One of the greatest monuments of the city is the Catholic Cathedral of Santa Maria, in pure lombard romanesque style with interior completely frescoed. As well as the National Museum with archaeological finds of ancient civilizations installed in Eritrea and a rich collection of objects, arts, typical clothing of the nine ethnic groups of the country: an anthropological global look of Eritrea. The coptic church Nda Mariam (project of arch. E. Gallo, 1920) built over the ancient one, worth a visit too. The best synthesis about liveliness and colour of ethnic Eritrean groups is the Medeber, a market dated eighteenth century, where artisans in small shops mould objects of all kinds by recycling metal. The Cemetery of Asmara, located on a hill from the red earth, is a place filled with light, colour, sound and it is one of the most important places to get a historic insight into the Italian adventure in Eritrea and it is a place where silence acquires a pulsing resonance and somehow exhausting. Overnight at Asmara, Albergo Italia or similar
03. After breakfast excursion on board the legendary train, pulled by locomotives “Mallet” from Asmara to Nefasit and back. (tour subject to availability and to be paid locally). You will have the rare opportunity to travel along one of the most daring railways in the world, whose construction began in 1897, on board trains that go back to the times of the colonies, still efficient thanks to a “loving” maintenance. We will cover the stretch Asmara-Arbaroba, about 18km one of the most striking and scenic part of the entire route.A century ago, Italians built a futuristic railway in Eritrea. Today, amid the wounds of a recent war, steam locomotives have returned to run on the tracks of the former Italian colony. An extraordinary enterprise commissioned by the Asmara Government and carried out by over seventy-year-old railway workers. The railway line that connects the cities of Asmara and Massawa, exceeding almost 2,400 meters in height, is unanimously considered a masterpiece of Italian engineering. Today as then, when it was inaugurated, in November 1912, the international press, even the most hostile and adverse, spoke of “an astonishing prowess”. One hundred and seventeen kilometers of rails wound through gorges, precipices and steep mountains. Along the way there are 29 tunnels, 13 stations, 5 big water tanks and 45 bridges and viaducts. The railway run is exciting and the main traction material consists of Mallet steam locomotives. The railway station of Asmara is a large building with chipped walls and faded insignias. The glasses of the ticket office are not in good condition and the bell that should announce the trains remains inexorably silent. Surprise lies beyond the entrance door. Crossing that threshold means entering an extraordinary time machine and suddenly being catapulted into the past, back a hundred years, into a story steeped in magic and charm. The railway route, partly coinciding with the road, is steep and spectacular: it runs along the sides of the mountain, completely covered by the plantations of prickly pears, offering breathtaking landscapes. If the excursion by train will not be available, the morning will continue the visit of Asmara. In the afternoon departure to Keren, (1,392 Mt. high), crossroad between the highland and the lowland and well-known for its silver filigree works, with several stops along the way and arrival in the late afternoon Overnight in Keren, Sarina hotel or similar.
04. Today in Keren there is the cattle market, and therefore a crossroads that attracts all the people of the areas surrounding the city. Sightseeing tour of the city and its market. Worth-seeing places are: the Italian and British war cemeteries, the mosque and the little Greek church near the market, the governor country-seat, the Romanesque Saint Michael church and the old Fortress (1,460 Mt. high). Last but not least, a visit to “Mariam Dearit” (Our Lady of Baobab), a chapel built inside the tree itself. The city of Keren, home of the Bilen people sprawls on a wide basin surrounded by granitic mountains on all sides, offers its beauties to those who are able to appreciate a still authentic slice of Africa and the nostalgic atmosphere that makes it fascinating. The most vivid and colorful attraction of Keren is its market, focus of industrious life and meeting point of all the tribes of the vast area. Through the covered food market, the streets of the tailors, the silversmith’s streets and the market dedicated to women (housewares and cosmetics) you reach the river bed, where the wood and coal market is held.Stop at the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Baobab, linked to a miraculous story that saved the lives of some Italian soldiers, they made it as their thanks to God because they took shelter there during the British bombings in 1941.
It is certainly worth visiting the Sanctuary of Mariam Dearit, where a black Madonna is venerated inserted in the hollow of a majestic baobab, and considered by all the queen and protectors of the village. The “Madonna of the Baobab” is also highly venerated by Muslims and often there are ecumenical and inter-religious pilgrimages; the pilgrims who reach this sanctuary each year are about forty thousand. The sanctuary is managed by the Cistercian monks who have resided in the sanctuary since 1960. There are several versions and legends about the origin of this Sanctuary. Visit to the war cemeteries in which Italian soldiers and Askari are buried (the Eritreans who fought alongside the Italian troops) and the British cemetery. On the way back to Asmara, if possible, stop at Elabered for a visit to the “De Nadai Estate”. An efficient system of dams, still today working, was created by the Italian farmers, which allows the cultivation of vegetables and fruit and the breeding of animals in exemplary stables. Large mango trees can be seen along the river. Overnight at Asmara, Midian hotel or similar
05. Breakfast and departure to Massawa. (2400 meters of difference in height with Asmara in little more than 100 km of road). We will use the classic one: the “Road of the Italians”, because the Italians owe the credit in the modernization starting from 1936, of the main road artery of the town, which was a masterpiece of civil engineering. It is not the only one, all it takes is thinking about the railway that still runs, in several places, parallel to the road, and the cableway built for the transport of goods from the port of Massawa to Asmara, the largest ever created in the world, unfortunately dismantled by English Army. The road climbed from 1,220 meters in Keren to 2,356 in Asmara and then down, in just 115 kilometers, to the harbor city of Massawa. Along the way you will meet the towns of Nefasit, Embatcalla, Ghinda, Dongollo Alto and lastly Dongollo Basso famous for its mineral waters. To enjoy nature in Eritrea, just travel a short distance from the capital and reach a rock spur along the road between Asmara and Massawa: it is simply called the Thirteenth kilometer. There it is above the clouds. Because from there the precipice begins towards the Red Sea, towards Massawa. The largest plateau in Africa, at the height of that nameless kilometer, fall down from the over two thousand meters of Asmara to the sands of a wonderful sea coast. The clouds, often, pile up along the edge of the plateau and do not make it to overtake it. Who looks out from the rocks of the Thirteenth kilometer will have the feeling of being in flight over Eritrea. If you look to the south, you will also see an Orthodox Monastery suspended in the sky. Around you will see the thorny euphorbia arms tangling together. It’s a place of African spell. Along the road, about twenty kilometers from Massawa we will make a brief stop at the monument of Dogali, where in January 1887 the five hundred men commanded by Col. De Cristoforis were massacred by the Abyssinian warriors of Ras Alula. Finally, we arrive in sight of the sea! The two attractive islands that make up Massawa are called Taulud and Massawa, and both are connected to the mainland by earthworks that act as bridges. City tour and Green Island excursion. Overnight in Massawa, Grand Dahlak Hotel or similar
06. Continue visit of Massawa. Sturdy and tenacious, like Eritreans themselves, Massawa City has survived throughout the centuries. This old port city preserves an ensemble of wonderful Ottoman architecture. The beginnings of Massawa are shrouded in millennia long past. It is known that in the times of Axumite Empire (first centuries AD) here was small village, which was overshadowed by Adulis port which was located some 50 km to the south. Now Adulis is in ruins. Massawa has two historical districts – each on its own island. The oldest and most valuable is the Old City on Batz’ (Massawa) Island: a coral island without fresh water sources, covered with valuable Arabic and Ottoman architecture. 440 m long causeway leads to the other part of historical city – Taulud Island. This island was uninhabited until the late 19th century, when Italians started construction here. This island is connected to the mainland with 1030 m long causeway. The most valuable buildings in Massawa are:
– Shrine of Sahaba – Old City. Small shrine in the site, where, according to legends, the followers of prophet landed in 615 AD. It is believed that this shrine was built back in those times – thus it could be the oldest constructed Islamic shrine in the world, but this is not proved.
– Sheikh Hanafi Mosque – Old City. The oldest mosque in Eritrea, built in the 15th century AD.
– Bazaar– Old City. Fine Ottoman building.
– Imperial Palace – Taulud. Ornate building constructed for French consul Werner Munzinger in 1872 – 1874. Now in ruins.
– Banco d’Italia – Taulud. Gorgeous building, constructed in the 1920s.
In the afternoon return to Asmara along the traditional road, always with stops along the way at the most interesting view and places. Leisure time for a walk to discover Asmara by night, maybe sitting in a bar, enjoying an excellent coffee and the quiet and cheerful coming and going of young people and tourists.
The bars of Asmara are part of the history of the bright African city, from the early twentieth century to today, some unaltered in a time that seems suspended. On the main avenue, Harnet Street, the most popular bars, such as the historic bar Empire, have outdoor tables, sit down, drink coffee, “espresso”, tea or the excellent cappuccino, you can taste the brioche or pastries, and you watch the passing people. In what was once the avenue of the Queen, another historic bar, the bar Vittoria, still has the old mirrors, the old counter and the bottles with vintage labels, a fifties bar also frequented by the few and astonished travelers who they pass through Asmara.
At a suitable time for your flight, you will be transferred to the airport.