Masssawa is one of the ancient city ports on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea. It has been very important for many centuries, it has seen
many colonizers including Egyptians, Ottoman Turks, Italians, British and Ethiopians until it was liberated by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Forces in 1990 by the famous Operation Fenkil. For most of its history, Massawa was little more than a seaside village, lying in lands that pertained to the Kingdom of Axum in ancient times and overshadowed by the nearby port of Adulis. Following the fall of Axum in the 8th century, the area around Massawa became embattled by the Islamic forces emerging in the region (Arabs and later Beja peoples) and mutually rival post-Axumite Christian forces from the region of Midri-Bahri, a Kingdom in Eritrea. Venetian Merchants were said to have lived in Massawa and nearby Suakin in the 15th century. Massawa became prominent when it was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1557.
The Ottomans made it the capital of Habesh. Under Özdemir Pasha, Ottoman troops then attempted to conquer the rest of Eritrea. Due to resistance, as well as sudden and unexpected demands for more troops in the Mediterranean and on the border with Pershia, the Ottoman authorities placed the city and its immediate hinterlands under the control of one of the aristocrats of the Bellou people, whom they appointed Naib of Massawa and made answerable to the Ottoman governor at Suakin. The Ottomans nevertheless built the old town of Massawa on Massawa Island into a prominent port on the Red Sea in typical Islamic Ottoman architecture using dry corals for walls, roof and foundation as well as imported wood for beams, window shutters and balconies. These buildings and the old town of Massawa remain to this day, despite having withstood both earthquakes and wars with aerial bombardment. During the 19th century, along with much of the African coast of the Red Sea, assawa was ruled by Egypt with Ottoman consent. Following the Egyptian defeat at the Battle of Gura, Egyptian control of the port withered, and with the help of the British, Massawa came under Italian control as part of their colony of Eritrea in 1885. In 1921 most of the City and Port of Massawa was destroyed by the Massawa Earthquake hampering the Italian colonial ambitions. The Italian colonialists had nevertheless built Massawa to become the largest and safest port on the east coast of Africa, and the largest deep-water port on the Red Sea. Italy was allied to the Axis powers during World War II and Massawa was the homeport for the Red Sea Flotilla of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina). When the city fell during the East African Campaign, a large number of Italian and German ships were sunk in an attempt to block Allied Forces use of the harbor of Massawa. From 15th April 1942, later master diver and salvage specialist RNR Lieutenant Peter Keeble was assigned to the clearing of the harbour: He managed to salvage and refi t an ex-Italian tugboat with simple means, before United States Navy Captain Edward Ellsberg and his crew arrived. Ellsberg took over, the wrecks were salvaged and the port was returned to service, as part of what had now become the British protectorate of Eritrea. In 1945, following the end of World War II, the port of Massawa suffered damage as the occupying British either dismantled or destroyed much of the facilities. It said that the British administration took the facilities of the port elsewhere to its colonies in Asia.
From 1952 to 1990, when Eritrea entered into a federation with Ethiopia, the Haileselassie regime made Massawa as the headquarters
for its Naval Force and stayed there until February 1990, when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front captured Massawa in a surprise
attack from both land and sea. The success of this attack cut the major supply line to the Second Ethiopian Army in Asmara, which then had to be supplied by air. In response, the then leader of Ethiopia Mengistu Haile Mariam ordered Massawa bombed from the air, resulting in considerable human and material damage. To day Massawa, thanks to the relentless effort of the government of Eritrea is becoming one of the modern cities in the country with its beautiful building, roads and port facilities.
Massawa the very fact that it has seen many colonizers makes a tourism attraction city with its buildings and mosques of different
types of architecture. History also tells us that Massawa is the first city in Africa which hosted the followers of Prophet Mohammed.
These followers of Prophet Mohammed were well received by the people and leaders of the area. Al-Sahaba, the ancient Mosque
in Massawa was built by the followers of Prophet Mohammed in 1400 AD. The Mosque is the first in Africa for followers of Islam set
their foot first in Massawa from Saudi Arabia. The Mosque is built with Islamic architecture and is still intact. Al-Shafi e Mosque is also another ancient Mosque built before 1000 years by people who were the first to go for pilgrimage to Mecca. The Mosque is built with Islamic architecture. Al-Sheik Hammal, whose architural design can be seen in many parts of the Horn region, was built before 800 years. Other ancient buildings built by the Turks like that of Derbush building and the bazaar are also some worth visiting in asawa. Later building that were constructed by the Italians include the Imperial Palace, built in 1872 to 1874 by Werner Munzinger; St. Mary’s Cathedral; the 1920s Banco d’Italia.
In 1990 the EPLF forces conducted a coordinated attack from the ground and from the sea and routed out the occupation army of Ethiopia and liberated Massawa once and for all. Today Massawa does not look like it had suffered from the war and the aftermath
of the war when the Derg regime indiscriminately bombarded the city leaving many women and children martyred and many others
wounded. When one have the chance of visiting the three tanks which are put at the edge of Sigalet Ketan in memory of the gallant freedom fighters which did miracle with those tanks to break the strong hold of the enemy from the only passage to the island of Massawa, and have the chance to hear what has been done there would have the understanding on what kind of scarifi es has been paid to liberate Massawa.
Massawa today is a modern city with beautiful housing complexes, and modern port. It also owns an International Airport and a station of the railway line to Asmara. Isola Verde (Green Island) which some kilometers from Massawa is tourism attraction with is clean water and thick forest of mangroves. Every Saturdays and Sundays there is a ferry which goes to the island carrying local and other tourists. Isola Verde is also known for its coral reefs, sea birds, and breading place for sea turtles. The hot spring of May Wu’uy (Hot Water) is another tourism attraction place the tour participants visited on the last day of our fi rst round tour. May Wu’uy is frequently visited by people with different ailments such as skin and nerve problems.
They take hot spring bath there for seven days and become relieved from their health problems. There are different hot springs earby the main May Wu’uy with believed to have unique characteristics to each other. There is the belief that one only cures ear problem while others cure the liver, eyes and heart problems. In any case they are worth visiting and try bathing for the place is beautiful with its landscape and the hot spring The modern engineering excellence zig-zag road of Serejeka Gahtelay is another spectacular work that every one would enjoy visiting and traveling through. The road was built by Eritrean engineers and Eritrean workforce. And it is a vivid proof that Eritreans could do miracles with their unfl inching maxim of self reliance.