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Only about 100km west of Asmera. With its low, whitewashed buildings, porticoes and arcades, Massawa has a more Arab feel to it, reflecting its centuries-old connection with Arabia across the other side of the Red Sea. The history, climate, architecture and atmosphere of the town seem to come from another world.

Massawa´´s natural deep harbour and its position close to the mouth of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean have long made it the target of foreign powers. It was occupied by the Portuguese, Arabs, Egyptians and Turks; finally, the British held it for a time before they all but haded it over to the Italians in 1885. Trade in Massawa flourished throughout these occupations - everything from slaves, pearls, giraffes and incense to ostriches and myrrh passed through the port.


Massawa´s buildings reflect its history of occupation. The Ottaman Turks, who occupied the city for nearly 300 years, had the biggest influence on the architecture.
Their successors, the Egyptians, also left a legacy of buildings and public works, including the elevated causeway, an aqueduct and the governor´s palace. In 1885 the Italians occupied Massawa, and the town became their capital until is was superseded by Asmera in 1897. During this time, many of the fabulous villas were built.

Once one of the most beautiful cities on the Red Sea, Massawa was all but flattened during the Struggle for Independence. Around 90% of the town was blitzed by Ethiopian blanket bombing, and great scars are still visible. Over the last decade, the town has been energetically reconstructed. Recently, a joint Unesco-Eritrean scheme has been drawn up to help preserve teh town. In future, the height of buildings will be restricted to three storeys, further development will be controlled and the streets will be pedestrianised.

Although Massawa still far from merits its former accolade of “Pearl of the Red Sea”, it retains a very enggaging, exotic character, which makes it an interesting place to explore. It´s also hassle-free and pretty safe - no mean feat for a modern, international port. One major drawback is the heat. the average annual temperate is 29.5°C, though it often far exceeds that, sometimes reaching 46.5°C. With the high coastal humidity, the town can seem like a furnace, and there´s marginal variation between day and night-time temperatures. The best time to visit Massawa is from October to May.