Eritrea Country Facts

By | June 7, 2024
ʾErtrāإرتريا Iritrīyā
Capital city Asmara
Surface 117,600 km²
Population 3.6 – 6.7 million
Road network length 16,000 km
Length of highway network 0 km
First highway N/A
Motorway name N/A
Traffic drives Right
License plate code Er

Eritrea, formally the State of Eritrea, is a small country in eastern Africa. The country is located on the Red Sea and is approximately 3 times the size of the Netherlands and has almost 6 million inhabitants. The capital is Asmara.


Eritrea is a country located on the Red Sea, bordering Sudan to the west and Ethiopia and Djibouti to the south. On the other side of the Red Sea are Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The country measures a maximum of 760 kilometers along its longitudinal axis along the coast and 60 to 400 kilometers inland from the sea. The capital Asmara is located fairly centrally in the country.

The country has a varied terrain and landscape. The coastal region is dry, flat and hardly cultivated. The interior is largely mountainous with a somewhat more moderate climate at higher elevations where some agriculture is possible. The 3,018 meter high Emba Soira is the highest point in Eritrea. In the southwest is a plateau at 600 to 800 meters altitude that is more cultivated. Eritrea has no major rivers. To the south, the Danakil Depression is 125 meters below sea level, a point where three tectonic plates meet. The coastal region has more than 300 islands, mostly small and uninhabited.

Eritrea has a diverse climate, mainly depending on the altitude. The highlands have a more temperate tropical climate, the lower parts in the coastal region have a hot and dry climate. The amount of precipitation varies greatly by region, but is greater inland than along the coast. The capital Asmara is located at 2300 meters altitude and the temperatures are therefore not that high, with maximum temperatures between 22 and 25°C all year round. There is an average of 500 mm of precipitation, mostly in July and August. However, there is a big difference with the coastal region, Massawa 60 kilometers to the east has maximum temperatures of around 40°C and less than 200 mm of precipitation per year.


It is unclear how many inhabitants Eritrea has. There has never been an official census. In 1950 Eritrea had only about 1 million inhabitants, this grew to 3.4 million in 2000 and around 5 million today. Eritrea has only one larger city, the capital Asmara which has an estimated 900,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, Keren alone has more than 100,000 inhabitants, but there are 15 other places that have between 10,000 and 70,000 inhabitants.

Accurate statistics on Eritrean society are scarce. It is estimated that 55% of the population belongs to the Tigrinya and 30% to the Tigre. There are also many small ethnic groups. In the 1940s about 10% of the population was Italian, but most Italians left the country after independence. The country is about two thirds Christian and one third Muslim.

Eritrea has no official language, but the de facto national language is Tigrinya, especially in the south and center of the country. There are numerous minor regional languages. Italian is hardly spoken anymore, English is spoken on a small scale in the scientific and technical sector.


Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world, about 80% of the population works in agriculture, largely to provide for their own food. The weather conditions therefore have a major impact on the Eritrean economy and society. The country has hardly any industry, although there is some potential in raw materials and mining. The main export products are gold and copper. Before 1998, Eritrea was an important transit country for Ethiopia, via the ports of Massawa and Assab. When the border closed in 1998, Assab lost its right to exist, fell into disrepair and the population moved away. Massawa still retained some importance for Eritrea itself. The borders have been open again since 2018, but in the meantime Djibouti has become Ethiopia’s main export port.


The area was governed by the ancient kingdom of Aksum, which consisted of present-day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. In the 4th century, Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Eritreans. In the Middle Ages, the Arab influence increased and the area was under the rule of sultanates. After the Middle Ages, the area was under Ottoman rule as part of Egypt. As part of the run on Africa by European countries, the Italians reached the area in 1880. From 1890 this became an Italian colony, Colonia Eritrea. The colony coincided with the current borders of Eritrea. Between 1887 and 1932 a railway was built by the Italians through the highlands, via Asmara to the port city of Massawa.

Under Italian rule, two wars were fought with Ethiopia, the First Italo-Ethiopian War from 1895 to 1896 and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War from 1935 to 1937. In the Second War, Ethiopia was defeated and occupied by Italy. However, the occupation lasted only 4 years, until Italy was defeated by the Allies in 1941 during the East Africa campaign of the Second World War. Eritrea-Ethiopia was then under British rule until 1950, and it was proposed to divide the country into religious divisions, with a Sudanese and Ethiopian part.

The Italian colony officially ceased to exist in 1947. The British and Americans wanted to grant almost all of Eritrea to Ethiopia, with the exception of the northwest, which should be awarded to Sudan. In December 1950, Eritrea was officially federated with Ethiopia. Eritrea would retain far-reaching autonomy. In 1961, an uprising broke out in Eritrea that culminated in a 30-year war of independence. Ethiopia wanted to keep Eritrea because it was its only access to the sea. In 1991 Ethiopian troops were defeated and in 1993 a referendum was held in which 99.8% voted for independence. Isaias Afwerki has been in power since independence, elections have never been held and the country is considered one of the most repressive in the world, comparable to North Korea.



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