In the 2nd century AD, the famous
Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy made reference to an important
ancient town named Koloe. It has long been thought that Kohaito
was equivalent to Koloe. But even if it is not (some
modern scholars favor nearby Metera), Kohaito importance in the
ancient world during this time is obvious.
Very little is known about the exact history of the settlement. A few ancient chronicles record that Kohaito was still flourishing in the 6th
century AD. However, like Adulis and Metera, it then
vanished very suddenly in the next one or two hundred years.
Kohaito, which lies at high altitude
of 2700m, once may have served as a kind of
summer retreat for the rich merchants from nearby towns.
The traces of cultivated areas found between the buildings have
led to the belief that Kohaito was once a garden city.
Lying some 121km south of Asmara, Kohaito's
impressive ruins are spread over a large area measuring 2.5km wide
by 15km long. As much as 80 to 90% of the ruins remain unexcavated.
In 1996 and 1997, a German expedition surveyed both Kohaito and
A short walk from Kohaito takes you to the edge
of a vast canyon that drops away dramatically. The views of the
surrounding mountains, including Mt. Ambasoira (3013m) to the south
(the highest peak in Eritrea), are stunning. Far below, you can
make out the terraced fields and tiny tukuls of seemingly to totally
inaccessible Saho settlement.
Among Kohaito's most important ruins is the so-called Temple
of Mariam Wakiro that was built on a rectangular plan on
a solid platform, and may have been the site of a very early Christian
church or even a pre-Christian temple. In the local language this
site has long been referred to as 'abode of the prestigious
About a kilometer to the north of the ruins of Mariam Wakiro, lies
a tomb discovered in 1894 nicknamed 'Meqabir
Ghibtsi' or the Egyptian tomb because of its impressive size.
The tomb faces east, overlooking the Hedamo River. Rectangular in
shape and built with large blocks of stones, its most distinctive
features are the two quatrefoil (flower-shaped) crosses carved on
the inside walls.
Shapira Dam, measuring
67m long and 16m deep, is constructed of large rectangular
blocks of stone that measure close to 1m by 0.5m, is
Kohaito's greatest claim to fame. The masonry is quite beautifully
dressed- one of the reasons perhaps for the dam's incredible
longevity. For around 1000 years, it has served
the local Saho people as the main source of water. Following
recent investigation carried out by the German team, this
water cistern date back to around 1 Century AD and even before this
period. On one of the walls inside the dam are some inscriptions
in ancient Ge'ez, made up of 79 words, is the longest yet
found in Ge'ez.
At Iyago, near Kohaito, south-east
of Mt Faquiti, an open shelter around 9m long
is covered in rock paintings dating from approximately 4000-5000BC. Nearly 100 figures painted in ochre,
black and reddish-brown adorn the rock face, depicting cattle, antelopes
and perhaps lions. Other rock shelters in the area include Ba'atti Abager, Zebanona Libanos and Mai Ayni, where figures include warriors
with long spears and oval-shaped shields, and wearing animal skins
seem to be indulging in a ritual dance.
Metera/Belew Kelew- situated 20km south of Kohaito,
house some of Eritrea's most important historical sites. Like
Kohaito, Metera flourished in the 6th century
AD. The scattered ruins testify to the existence of a once
large and prosperous town.
Metera is important for three
main reasons: for
its age- some of it, from
about 5th century BC; for
its huge size- it spreads over at least
20 hectares and is known among locals as Belew-Kelew, it is much
the largest site after Adulis; and for
its unusual character- it is the only
place where a large bourgeois community is known to have thrived.
One of Metera's most important objects is its enigmatic
stele. Unique in Eritrea, the stele is known
for its pagan, pre-Christian symbol of the sun over the crescent
moon- a south Arabian divinity, engraved on the top of the
eastern face; and it faces eastward. Standing 2.5m tall,
the stele has an inscription near the middle in Gee'z. An
unknown king dedicated the stele to his ancestors who had subjugated
the 'mighty people of Awanjalon, Tsebelan'.
Metera's discovery came in 1868, when Frenchman Denis de Rivoire reported its existence.
In 1903, an Italian officer made a few amateur excavations in two
places. The first scientific survey was carried out by the German
Expedition in 1906. In 1959, the French archeologist Francis Anfray
began a major excavation of the site. From 1959 to 1965, various
sites were excavated. A large mould located 100m north-west of the
stele revealed a big, central building- perhaps a royal
palace or a villa- attached to an annexe
of living quarters. A huge wall surrounds the whole complex. Several
burial chambers were found in the larger building; in one of them,
the skeleton of a chained prisoner was discovered. Between 1961
and 1962, a large, square, multiroomed complex built on a sturdy
podium and a tomb chamber
were unearthed. Anfray's excavations also uncovered four large
villas, some smaller houses, three Christian churches and a residential
quarter- perhaps for the common people.
Objects unearthed at Metera in the last 50 or more years include
some beautiful and amazingly well-preserved gold
objects- two crosses, two chains, a brooch,
necklaces and 14 Roman coins dating from between the 2nd and 3rd
century AD- found in a bonze vase. Many household items including
bronze lamps, needles and daggers, Mediterranean amphorae, and the
remains of large marble plates were unearthed.
Only tiny part of Metera has been excavated. Big
moulds lie tantalizingly untouched all around the ancient people'’s
tomb – hidden somewhere among the rocks – still awaits
exploration, and may yield a remarkable finds.
One of the more remarkable things, here and at the other Archeological
sites, is that the cement that binds the bricks
show no sign of weakening even after some 1,400 years, a fact which
is unlikely to be true of the stuff manufactured today. Metera
has been identified by the historian Kobishchanov as the ancient
city of Koleo, which currently seem to
be more acceptable theory that the one put forward in the 1890s
by Bent, that Koleo was Kohaito.
4km south of Adi Keyh in a wide valley. The ground is littered with
potsherds, broken pillars and chiseled stones. Close to the dirt
road there are two pillars: one standing, another with a curious
rounded head. On a hill west of the site, there is an early inscription
curved on a large basalt rock.
in a small valley 128km south of Asmara. This huge, unexcavated
site is considered exceptional for its pre-Christian and pre-Islamic
remains, which include the ancient tomb of a local prince or lord.
Lying among the barley fields like elongated, upturn boats are various
huge monoliths, including one measuring a giant 14m long. Some stelae
bear ancient inscriptions in Ge'ez; from their style, it is
believed that they are at least 2500 years old. Elephants are offered
as the most likely explanations from the way the immense stones