History of Keren

Published on 14th August 2007

Keren (formerly Cheren) is the third largest city in Eritrea with a population of approximately 120,000; majority of the population being Muslims. It lies North West of Asmara and is the regional capital of the Anseba Region. The town has been divided into 4 administrative sub-divisions: Elabered, Hagaz, Halhal and Melbaso.

Keren grew around an Eritrean Railway to Asmara, now dismantled. It is an important commercial centre and was the scene of regular battles in both World War II and the Eritrean War of Independence. During World War II a fierce battle between Italian and British troops took place here (The Battle of Keren).

The Battle of Keren was fought as part of the East African Campaign during World War II. It was fought from 3 February 1941 to 1 April 1941 between the colonial Italian army defending Eritrea and the invading British and Commonwealth forces. In 1941, Keren was a town located in the Italian colony of Eritrea. Keren was of strategic importance to both the Italian and the British forces. The road and railway routes through Keren were the key to access the city of Asmara (colonial capital of Eritrea) and the Red Sea port of Massawa.

The name Keren means highland. The sun rises over one set of peaks in the east and sets over another set in the west. Keren is one of the major agricultural centers of Eritrea, especially in fruits and vegetables and bananas. In addition, its dairy herds supply fresh milk, butter and the cheese factory produces provolone and other cheeses.  

Keren also has a town market, where one can purchase silver items and a wood market, where camels gather on the dry river bed. Cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys are bought and sold here too.  

The city also hosts examples of Italian and Ethiopian colonial heritage. Keren boasts of stylish public buildings and a Romanesque Catholic church. Keren also has a railway station that serves as the local bus station, both for the buses to Asmara, Nacfa and Barentu and for taxi buses that intersect Keren. However, camels and donkeys still outnumber cars.  

Other attractions in the city include the Tigu nineteenth century Egyptian fort, the St Maryam Dearit chapel, lying in a baobab tree,  British Army and Italian Army cemeteries and local markets. The nearby sixth century Debra Sina monastery is known for its cave dwellings. 



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