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Southern Region Tour: A Once In a Lifetime Experience

‘Three seasons in two hours’ is the theme of the Eritrean tourism sector. But I guess that would only be one version for those who had the opportunity to travel in the Southern Region, where one travels through layers of time in just a couple of hours. Expedition in the Southern region of Eritrea is one big adventure for archaeological wonderers, geological admirers and historical references; all in one package. Having this in mind, the Southern region Administration in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism organized a tour of select group for three days; it was a once in a lifetime adventure for the entire group.

‘Three seasons in two hours’ is the theme of the Eritrean tourism sector. But I guess that would only be one version for those who had the opportunity to travel in the Southern Region, where one travels through layers of time in just a couple of hours. Expedition in the Southern region of Eritrea is one big adventure for archaeological wonderers, geological admirers and historical references; all in one package. Having this in mind, the Southern region Administration in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism organized a tour of select group for three days; it was a once in a lifetime adventure for the entire group.

The journey began from Asmara with a convoy of 11 cars towards the south to Mendefera. Following a nice breakfast in a pleasant setting in Debarwa, which happens to be the oldest capital of Eritrea, the journey continued to a monastery in the sub zone, one of the oldest monasteries in the country; the monastery of Aba Libanos (Aba Meta’e). The monastery contains among the oldest bibles, mummified bodies as well as water droplets that are believed to have a sacred blessing for curing sight and hearing problems.

Around 20 kilometers drive from the monastery is the city of Mendefera, capital of the Southern region and again the road towards the south west of the city takes to the town of Adi Quala in around 30 kilometers. A dirt road towards the west from Adi Quala leads to Adi Begi’o, another very important village, which occupies a center stage in the recent defeat of the Ethiopian invasion. It is a battle front with a very strategic location commanding the plains bordering with Ethiopia. It is an easy drive of around three kilometers south east of the Adi Begi’o trenches; the path goes through some fine agricultural land with a superb view of the escarpment. The mausoleum of Daero Kuna’at, tells of a significant historical event in the region as it is the resting place of some 8,000 Italian troops lost at a battle in March 1896.

The drive from there towards the city of Adi Keih was quite long but well worth it, as the sub zone is the home of over 2500 years old archaeological remains, monasteries and other ‘must see’ sites. Located 11 kilometers south of Adi Keih and positioned on a flat plane area is the archaeological site of Kohaito. 750 clusters of sites form the Kohaito area, which include: Pillars (Temples for pagans), the “queen of Sheba dam” or may be the Safira dam as well as remains of buildings.

The Kohaito area, which sits in an area of 68 square kilometers, holds universal outstanding value as it was the main passage or trade rout from the old port city of Adulis to the Axumite Kingdom. The area was active from around 700 B.C to 700 A.D, except for the Safira dam which amazingly is still providing services to the inhabitants of the area. The then civilization of Kohaito had close connections with the Byzantine Empire, Roman Empire as well as the Land of Punt.

Kohaito in the Saho language means ‘Rock’, which signify the rocks that uplift the old city of Kohaito in a strategically commanding position towards every direction. There is a place called the Egyptian tomb in Kohaito, which made everyone wonder why it was called Egyptian tomb or how it might had been connected with the Egyptians; but experts say some archaeologist discovered a mummified body in 1900s and somehow related the civilization with the Egyptians.

Around 16 kilometers south of Adi Keih is the town of Sen’afe, an area, which encompasses Mount Metera, on the tip of which is a 1500 year old monastery. One of the more obvious features of the city is a 5 meters stele (Obelisk) with an inscription that has been dated to the 3rd century. On the top is an engraved symbol of South Arabian divinity, a disk cover and a crescent.

The expedition doesn’t end there; the monastery of Ham-Debre Libanos, apparently the oldest Christian monastery in Eritrea, is supposed to have been founded in the late fifth or early sixth century by the Syrian missionary who evangelized in three places. The monastery is about 150 kilometers from the capital Asmara. Originally located in the village of Ham, the monastery was later moved to its present accessible location perched on the edge of a cliff below the Ham plateau.

The Church contains the “Golden Gospel”, a metal covered bible containing copies of land charters that date back to the early 13th century and a large number of mummified bodies were discovered in 1987 approximately aging up to 1500 years. The mummified bodies were wrapped tightly in animal skin that is worn by monks today.

The few specimens of completely mummified bodies have only the feet and hands exposed; astonishingly, the skin and nails of the hands and feet were very well preserved.

Every single town every single rock and every single thing has its own story in the region, but the details of each need to be told one at a time.

 

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