Gash-Barka is the largest region in Eritrea by land mass. It has a population of more than 800,000 and borders Anseba region to the north, Sudan to the west and Ethiopia to the south. Gash-Baraka, which is well-suited for agricultural and commercial ventures, has also a potential to be a tourist attraction site with its rich cultural and historical resources and land-scape. It is home to almost all Eritrean ethnic groups.
Since the tourism resource of this region is so abundant, in this issue we present you with some of the sites that are worth visiting. These include Mount Aylet which has natural and historical beauty, Degiat Gurja Fortress which was used as a defense line and residential area in the 17th century, the ancient Marieta natural water reservoir located along the Gash River, Italian fortresses near Agordat, Mount Adal (where the Eritrean struggle for independence started) and the unique wild life of the region.
- Mount Aylet
This is a place where the local people defeated a Dervish invading army that greatly outnumbered them. The mountain is home to a number of cottages, tombs and mosques and other materials that reflect the life of the people back in the 17th century.
Mount Aylet is located about 6 km to the north-west of the town of Haikota. According to legends, the local people used the mountain as a fortress to fight back invaders. During the Ethiopian colonial times the place known as Darglieta, which means the floor of the earth, was used to defend against the Haileslassie and Dergue military offensives.
A quarter of an hour walk from Darglieta there is a place known as Tingalieka, which means “a high floor”, about 6 times of the area of Derglieta. In Tingalieka there are different monuments, including more than 50 ancient graves. According to the people of Aylet, the graves have very well constructed stairs. Each grave belongs to one family. When a family member dies, he/she is buried in the family grave and then the grave is closed again after the burial ceremony.
There are three ancient mosques in Tingalieka — the Sidi Bakri El Merghani, Sidi Jafar El Merghani and Sidi Hagem El Merghani mosques. Though the mosques are old, they are visited by residents of Aylet to this day, especially during holidays when they perform their Salat or prayer.
In the north-west of Tingalieka, there are large caves known as “Ub” where the inhabitants of Aylet were hiding during invasions. Some of these caves have a wide range of entrances, which helps in the chains of movement within them. While some of these caves get light from sun rays, some of them are completely dark, making it difficult to move without the help of light. The local people say that these caves can accommodate thousands of people at one time. There is a place known as “Setebekaba” where water can be stored for a rainy season. There were water streams inside the caves and the traces are still visible today.
To the south of these caves there is a guarding post known as Dama, built with large stones. If you rise on top of these building, you can see the Gash River plains — Hademdemi, Tigirega, Kerekebt and Haikota plains. At the bottom of the guarding posts, there is a residential place of the leader of the people. In both places, Tingalieka and Darglieta, there are slate stone utensils and earthenware that have been used by the Aylet people to grind corn and prepare food and other objects, as well as store food.
- Fortress of Degiat Gurja
The fortress of Degiat Gurja is located in the village of Tkul, Molki sub-zone. The main reason that he chose this site was possibly due its relative high altitude in the area, which he wanted to use to counter movements and to be able to fight back easily. Degiat Gurja was a ruler born in the mid of the 19th century and ruled over the localities called Wereda Zaydekolom.
The defensive fortress of Degiat Gurja contains residential areas, command posts and a meeting room. The upper floor of Degiat Gurja’s two-story building is called the Silk House.
- Natural reservoir of Marieta
The Marieta natural reservoir, which is located in the Shambuko Sub-zone, is one of the tourist sites of the Gash Baraka region. The reservoir is located at 600 to 700 meters from the semi-urban town of Shambuqo along the Grme-Elala road. In summer the fish population in the reservoir increases and the local people use this rare fish resource in the region, especially from October to January. The people say that the fish species that in the reservoir are big in size. In winter a vast amount of the reservoir’s water evaporates and is filled with grass for the rest of the year till summer comes.
The main water sources of the reservoir are runoffs from the Mount of Gosoma and the Mereb River. When Mereb River overflows it fills the Marieta natural water reservoir. There are tropical crocodiles, brood-stock, wild-pigs, canyon chicken and fish, as well as various bird species in the area.
- Italian Fortress in Agordat
Constructed in the early 1930s, the fortress is located about one km to the southwest of the city of Agordat. The main purpose of constructing this defensive line was to deter a potential invasion of the British colonial army from the Sudan. During this period, the commander of the fortress was Emmanuel XII and he was administering the area in cooperation with the local administrator, Deglel Jelani, who was also in charge of the town of Agordat.
The fortress has residential houses, prison buildings, water tanks, command posts and guarding stations. There is also a round building constructed using cement, but no one knows what it was used for. It was so well built that the English army was not able to go through this fortress during the World War II in their advance towards Eritrea. They had to first crush the Italian defense line in Tinqulhas. There is also an Italian fortress near Barentu with no less historical significance than that of Agordat.
- Mount Adal
Mount Adal, where Hamid Idris Awate and his comrades shot the first bullets that marked the beginning of the independence struggle, is one of the most famous historical places in modern Eritrean history.
This is found 50 km to the north of Gogne. Mount Adal, surrounded by a series of mountains, is a strategic and convenient place for military confrontations.
- Elephant Corridor
Located on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Setit River is expected to be an attractive location for local and foreign tourists in the future due to its year-round water flow and its rich wildlife and forest resources. There is an elephant enclosure area that stretches from Laelay Gash to Gogne and Haikota which covers an area of around 44,000 hectares of land. According to the survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Wild Life Authority, the number of elephants has increased form just around 16 in 1996 to 250 today. This is considered an honorable development for the Wild Life Authority’s efforts to protect wild animals and create a climate of breeding.
In addition to the large agro-industrial efforts that are underway, Gash-Barka is a beautiful place for people who love to travel and experience different cultures, historical sites and development projects.
Compiled by Habtom Tesfamichael