Keren: Home of Art Deco Buildings (Part I)

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Eritrea is a country of art Deco buildings. Even though Asmara is notable for its historic and beautiful buildings which have been recognized by UNESCO, cities like Massawa, Keren, and Akordet also have amazing and beautiful historic architecture. In particular, many of the buildings in Keren are striking in their beauty.

A quick overview of some of Keren’s historic buildings and architecture suggests that the city is blessed with many special sites, which could even be tourist attractions. Keren’s historic buildings and infrastructure include religious buildings, administrative offices, restaurants, cafes, and residential houses. I recently explored Keren’s rich architecture. I am happy to be able to share what I found.

Built between 1906 and 1916, during the middle of the Italian colonial era, the Administration of Keren (Comeceriatio Keren) was head office for the then-mayor of Keren. This building served as an administration center for the Western province during the British colonial period and as an administrative office for the then-Senhit province during the Federation with Ethiopia. After independence, this building first served as the administration for the Anseba region, before becoming the administrative office for Keren, which it remains.

Office of the Ministry of Tourism, Anseba Branch (Cinema Empero, Casa degli Fasho), was built between 1916 and 1920. As its name indicated, this building was a residence for the Fascists. During the Italian colonial period, the building complex served as both a recreational center and as an administrative office. Later, during the period of British administration and until independence, the building was a cinema and an administration office. Currently, it is a cinema and the Office of the Ministry of Tourism, Anseba Branch.

Palazo Riva (Riva Palace) was constructed in 1938. This building is situated at the very center of Keren. The upper part of the palace used to serve as a recreational center for the Italians, while the ground floor was a bar. Part of this building was a hotel, restaurant, and a bar during the British period. The upper part of this place is now a hotel, while the lower part has residential houses and also serves as a center of various commercial activities.

Built in 1920, Senhit Hotel (Albergo Vitorio) was where Italian soldiers went to dine. Currently, the building is a bar and hotel. Similarly, Albergo Sicilia, established in 1938, is a pension (similar to a “bed and breakfast” or “hostel”).

Keren Hotel (Enda Baskuzi) is a two-story building established in 1958. Constructed as a hotel, it still serves as such. Today, it is administered by the Ministry of Tourism.

Casa Degli Majri was a residential place for police commanders during the Italian period. Subsequently, during the rule of the Derg regime, it served as headquarters for intelligence services. The underground rooms of the building were used to imprison and execute “criminals”. One of the oldest complexes built in the Anseba region, for many the building is also the most beautiful. Since independence, the building has served as a residential complex.

Located in front of Cinema Empero Keren, Housing and Commercial Bank was established in 1916. It has a conference hall that was used as a cinema and recreation center prior to the construction of Cinema Empero. Some rooms were also used as stores for commercial items. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, the building sold to a wealthy family from Keren. “Da’qot Family” In 1975, during the rule of the Derg regime, the building was utilized as a central office for various government institutions. Since independence, the front part of the building has been used by the Housing and Commercial Bank, while the back of the building complex is being used by Al-Nasr Football Club.

Situated in front of the Keren Hospital, the Office of the Ministry of Education, Keren Branch was built in 1935. Originally, it was a school for Italians. In 1977, the school became an office for the Ministry of Education, Senhit province.

Currently, the building serves as the headquarters of the Office of the Ministry of Education, Keren Branch.

Villa Mussa Bekit was built in 1920 as a residential house for the mayor of Keren during that time. Today, the building serves as a military hospital.

Keren’s current Bus Station, “Ferovia” was built in the period between 1918 and 1922. It was a railway station until 1970 and was later changed to a hotel. As of 2005, the building has been used as a bar and restaurant, as well as the Office of Transportation Service, Anseba region.

Abi Mesgid (Big Mosque) was built by the Italians in 1986. Located in the center of the city, this mosque is now the biggest in Keren.

Beilul Restaturant and Awet Hotel were constructed in the years between 1920 and 1930. While Beilul Restaurant was originally a residential house for an Italian man, Awet Hotel was constructed as a hotel, bar, and restaurant. Throughout the Italian colonial era, it served the same purpose. Later, during the period of British rule, it became club for teachers. Today, the hotel is owned by a clan known as “Enda Haj Mussa”. It is located in downtown of Keren, between the Keren Hotel and the Pasta Factory.

Most of Keren’s old and beautiful buildings are rich in history. Despite the many years that have passed since their original construction, their beauty is still clearly apparent. Ultimately, the buildings serve as a testament of Eritrea’s vast architectural splendor and long, eventful history.