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Brief History of Sweet Keren

By: Yohannes Ferdinando Drar

Keren and its surroundings was where the battlefield between the imperial Ethiopian Army and the Ethiopian Commandos and the Liberation Army of the ELF was fought and later with Derg’s Forces against the Liberation Army of the ELF and the EPLF. It was the first city to be under the Ethiopian state of emergency and martial law. It was also the first city that had a curfew from Ethiopian rulers. The Ona massacre (December 1, 1970) occurred around the city where more than 1,000 civilians were bombarded with machine guns by the notorious Ethiopian Army. In a nutshell, the city of Keren serves as a symbol of resistance and oppression to the Eritrean people. It is a cosmopolitan city where citizens from all nine ethnic linguistic groups including the main religious groups (Islam & Christianity) live side by side in harmony and peace.The city is also well known for its markets of silver items and woodwork. It is also a city well known for its vegetables and sweet oranges (Aranchi). In fact, beautiful Eritrean women are referred to as Aranchi Keren. Its population is well known for its generosity and climate of hospitality. Keren’s climate is so hospitable that the city has evolved into a premiere tourist destination which is why Keren is referred to as Keren Tsada (Sweet Keren).The most important attractions and sights in Keren are the nineteenth century Egyptian built fort (Tigu), the Mariam Dearit, the 1930s Italian built railway station, the Old Mosque, Said Bakri Mausoleum, British Army and Italian Army cemeteries, the Liberation Army Cemetery, the St. Michael Catholic church, San Antonio, the St. Mariam Coptic Church.


Keren is the second largest city in Eritrea. It was a provincial capital of Senhit Province and currently Anseba region. Its population is estimated at around 120,000. It is a city with a diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and multicultural landscape. Its diverse citizenry utilize the languages of Blin, Tigre, Arabic and Tigrigna. The city has a long and courageous history of resistance to any oppressive rulers. Keren has been the centre of an aspiration for Eritrean nationalism. During the long struggle for Eritrean independence the city has been a target of colonial Ethiopian oppressive rulers.


During the Second World War the battle of Keren was fought between the Italian Colonial Army and the British



Commonweatth Forces. General Lorenzini was killed fighting the British Forces led by General Platt in September 1941.

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