Massawa, also nicknamed “ the Pearl of the Red Sea”, is second largest city and the major port of Eritrea. The city sits on two islands name Tiwalet and Hirgigo, which are connected with main part of the city on the main land with a bridge called Ketan Sigalet. Massawa is a fascinating tourist destination that projects a special memory that never fades from the mind of the visitor. It has clean sea beaches with dazzling city beauty and hotel service. There are a number of hotel-service rendering businesses with different standards and service qualities in which gives a room of choice for the visitor. Besides to these, the port city has another tourist attracting quality: the divine architecture of the buildings, which dates back to the colonial history of Eritrea 500 years back. The Turkish, Egyptian and Italian art decos are clearly and outstandingly visible though out the city. During the present time the city is undergoing big renovation and reconstruction project by the government of Eritrea in order to transform it to a total tourist paradise and duty-free port. One good example of this is, a new international airport has been built and put in to effect.
This port was well known and used by traders from the ancient times. Being a port and its importance on the Red Sea has exposed it for different invaders. Its second name mainly used by the locals Bats’e is believed to be the Beja port of Badi cited by Al-Ya’qubi in the 9th century.
During the 14th century it was controlled by the Sultanate of the Dahlak Islands, even though, the Abyssinians never stopped to have access to the port of Massawa. In the early sixteenth century, Massawa became a battlefield between Portugal- who came to save the land of Prester John (Abyssinia) and Ottoman Turks. From the second half of the 16th century, the Turks took control of the island until the coming of the Egyptians in 1813, while the political power fell in the hands of the Na’ibs of Hirghigo. After the second half of the nineteenth century, the port was fortified enabling the traders to build permanent residents and Protestant and Catholic missionaries to develop schools and other facilities in the mainland around the port.
After its occupation by Italy in February 1885, Massawa served as a capital city that accelerated the development of the port until 1900. Unfortunately in 1921, a powerful earthquake devastated the infrustructure of the port. The reconstruction of the port began when the Fascist Italy commenced preparations to invade Ethiopia. This war of expansion brought tremendous changes in the development of the port. Road transport and aerial cableway that connected Massawa to Asmara were constructed. With the newly deployed military personals and the influx of the locals to the port in search of work, the population of the city grew. During the time of the British, the port experienced short-lived economic boom that ceased with the end of the War. Not only this, the British deconstructed the port by selling off most of the port’s infrastructures. Moreover the Ethiopian government made Massawa its military base forcing the residence to flee into other parts of Eritrea or the neighboring countries. The two major battles fought here- in 1978 and 1990 also played a major role in the destruction of the city. After the Eritrean defeated the Ethiopians and controlled Massawa, the Ethiopian Air Force bombed the port destroying most of the city. Massawa is now completely reconstructed and given much of the attention. It is filled with white colored villas and newly built hotels. The Turkish influence is still very visible in the city. The causeways are now enlarged and extremely pleasant for a walk; all in all the development projects to make Massawa a tourist center is imminent.