Keren: Home of Art Deco Buildings (Part II)

About Eritrea - History & Culture

-Editor’s note: In an earlier issue of Eritrea Profile, we featured an article looking at some of the historic buildings of Keren. Today, we present the second part of that feature, with a look at some of Keren’s historic religious, educational, and other buildings.

The Art Deco buildings of Keren still possess mesmerizing beauty. They still possess splendor and tell an engaging story. Like the buildings presented and described in the first part of this feature, the sculptures, ceramic works and inscriptions in some of these buildings have a great history to tell.

  • Shitata (Enda Molgom)


The Shitata building complex was established in 1935 by an Italian man named Mr. Derosi. This building served as a button factory until the 1960s. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, the building was turned into a prison and then a military camp. Later, the Dergue regime maintained it as a military camp. Currently, the building serves as a wood and metals workshop.

  • Greek Orthodox Church


Located near Keren’s large mosque, the Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1900. This church served Greek settlers until the 1960s. Later, some rooms within the Church were taken over by the Dergue regime. At this time, part of the building complex is being used as an office for Kebabi Hade administration. The Church is closed throughout the year, except during the annual commemoration of the holiday of Saint John. On this occasion, individuals and groups making pilgrimages from Asmara visit the Church. 

  • Yakot Building


This building was constructed in 1930 during the time of Italian colonization. It was owned by a woman known as Sherifa. It was mainly referred to as the “Saied Murkani Building (Enda Sidi)”. Subsequently, it would fall under the ownership of the Yakot family. In 1975,the Dergue regime made it public property. Subsequently, in the post-independence period, the Government of the State of Eritrea returned the property to its previous owners, the Yakot family. This building is situated in downtown Keren, near the popular “Gira Fiyori” area.

  • Saint Michael Church


First built in 1854 by Aba Yohaness Stella, Saint Michael’s Church was a small temple. It served the same purpose until 1865. In 1872, the temple was damaged by Manzinger, an Egyptian administrator. However, it resumed services in 1873, before remarkably being damaged again, this time by an earthquake.

It was then rebuilt in 1875 and since then it has served as a church. The church is designed in the shape of a cross. Its architectural beauty and design makes the building unique and one of a kind. However, its small area and capacity have made it a challenge to accommodate all the pilgrims who visit the church. Saint Michael’s Church is located in the southern part of Keren, near the foothills of Mount Wedi Gofar. There are beautifully crafted tombs of two Italians, who participated in the original construction of the church, at the very foot of the temple.

  • Saint Hana School


Saint Hana School was built in 1944 by the Saint Hana Association. Originally, it served as an orphanage and was built as a monastery and a school. This building is unique in the way it was built; a cave, serving as a prayer space, is located within the inner part of the school. Located not far from Saint Michael’s Church, the school is still owned by the Saint Hana Association. Some of the services that the school offers include academic activities and training in arts and handicrafts. As well, many visit to say their prayers.

  • Selam Primary School


Located in the western part of Keren, Selam Primary School was constructed in 1918, during the period of Italian colonization. This building was established as a center for basic education, as well as the teaching of Italian and Arabic. The primary aim for opening the school was to train locals to be able to translate between local languages and Italian. As well, the school used to offer training in carpentry,metal works, driving, mechanics, and other skills. Later, during the British Administration period, it served as a primary school. In 1977, when Keren was liberated by the EPLF, its name was changed to Harnet School.

Selam Primary School is the first of its kind in Keren. Since independence, it has served as a primary school.

  • Saint Antonios Church


Saint Antonios Church was built in 1931. It originally served as a school. However, in 1932 it was changed to a church. What is particularly unique and beautiful about Saint Antonios Church is its wonderfully designed 26-meter tall bell tower.  Three big bells are installed in the tower. The tower is also decorated by a functional big wall clock which was imported from Italy in 1933.

A cave, known as Saint Mary’s Cave, is found within the premises of the church. This cave is located near the gate of the church. The exterior part of the cave, which stands as a monument, was built by Italian soldiers in 1936. The cave now serves as a prayer area.

Since its small size cannot accommodate very many people, a larger church is now being constructed nearby.The newly-built church has added even further beauty to the original church. Saint Antonios Church is located in front of Anesba region’s administration office.

  • Megarih Temple


Megarih Temple was built in 1938 in a place known as Megarih, near the cemetery for Italian soldiers. A cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers is also located near the temple. These areas provide some insights into an important part of Eritrea’s long, eventful history.

The Art Deco buildings and religious and historic sites described in the first and second part of this article are not the only tourist attractions in Keren. Remarkably, the beautiful city features many more historical and architectural wonders that were not covered but merit further research and exploration.