Keren in Eritrea, the cultural capital of Eritrea

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Keren, the picturesque mountain city of Eritrea is must go-to place in Eritrea. Keren in Eritrea is the second largest city and the cultural capital of the nation.

A church in Keren of Eritrea
A church in Keren of Eritrea

Majestic, lofty mountains encompass the city on all its sides, creating a very scenic picture. The name “Keren”, transliterates to “highland”.

Eritrea is a country that is divided into six main regions, with each having a capital of its own. Keren is the regional capital of the Anseba region located to the northern part of Eritrea.

Keren is inhabited by people belonging to many different tribes of Africa, with the people of the Tigre and Bilen tribes being preponderant.

History narrates that the current cultural capital of Eritrea, was initially just a city that developed around the railway route to Asmara. Presently, the Eritrean Railways is not in use.

Keren is a significant producer of dairy as well as fruits and vegetables. Back in the colonial times, many Italians had agriculture business located in Keren. This was mainly because of the ideal climate and soil fertility in Keren.

How to reach Keren of Eritrea?

Geographically, there is a distance of about 71 km from Asmara to Keren (previously called Cheren or Sanhit). However, to reach Keren by road you’ll have to travel through a distance of about 92 km.

You can take a local bus from the capital city of Asmara to Keren. However, the queues for these buses are usually long and waiting could be time consuming. Children selling bread and women sitting on the paths selling roasted maize are a common sight at the bus stops.

As alternative travel options, you will find that there are many private cars and mini-buses that go to Keren. Even though they are slightly more expensive, it would be wiser to do so.

You’re bound to reach your destination in roughly 50 minutes.

Note: Visitors from Asmara need to get a permit to enter Keren. It should be obtained from the Ministry of Tourism in Asmara.

Where to stay in Keren?

A Mosque in Keren of Ethiopia
A Mosque in Keren of Ethiopia

Keren offers many accommodation options from budget stays to luxurious downtown hotels.

The Keren Hotel here is more like a boutique hotel with splendid artistic decors.

While you’re in the city, do not miss the beautiful sunrise and sunset from your hotel. Seeing the sun rise from the mountain peaks in the east and the sun set over the mountain peaks in the west is simply magnificent.

Why visit Keren?

The city of Keren plays an important role in encouraging cultural tourism in Eritrea. It is a city that portrays so well the Eritrean culture.

From the colonial times itself, Keren has always been a regular place for the Italians and the locals to get away from the bustle of the city and have a pleasant, relaxing time.

Italian war cemetery in Keren of Eritrea
Italian war cemetery in Keren of Eritrea

Keren paints a pretty picture with its lush green shrubs on either side of the roads and “circles of flowers” that act as a roundabout, in the interjection between roads.

Go on a tour to Mariam Da’arit or the Shrine of St. Mary of Da’arit, one of the most popular tourist attractions here. It is amazing to see the beautifully carved tiny chapel within the trunk of a baobab tree. Very often visitors bring flowers or leave their rosaries as a display of devotion and respect. The chapel is also known as the “Madonna of the Baobab”.

A baobab tree is a huge tree with wide barks, found mainly in the African continent. They are known to store up to 12000 liters of water!

There are a number of old churches in Keren that are of historic importance such as the St Michael’s Church and St. Antonio’s Church.

Pay a visit to the oldest monastery in Afrrica, the famous Debre Sina monastery (of Eritrean Orthodox faith). It is said to have been established in the 4th century! It has a church, built on the rock where it is rumored that a few shepherd girls saw a vision of Mother Mary.

Many tourists and visitors camp here for a night filled with showing devotion and praising Mother Mary.

There is an old, Italian railway station in Keren. After this railway route became defunct, the locals converted it to a local bus station. Everything about this station and the nearby neighborhood is Italian.

Another tourist attraction in Keren is the Tigu which is a Turkish-Egyptian fort located on a hill. The view from the top of the fort is wonderful. This fort was witness to the Ethiopian war and still holds the canons used by the army.

Keren also has a number of war cemeteries. The Keren War Cemetery contains many Commonwealth burials of World War II. You can also visit the infamous battlefield, located close to it. However, you need a special permit from the Ministry of Tourism in Asmara to do so.

Note: Plan ahead and make sure you have all the required permits before you start your trip to avoid any inconvenience.

So, have a wonderful vacation to Eritrea and Keren in Eritrea!

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E Jey
A traveler who loves to enjoy food and shares stories, I spent several years in Africa for job and for travel. I quit my full-time job in 2016 and now serious about my travels and story telling.
Real name: Ebbin Jose
Citizen of: India
Living in: Kochi (India)

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