A historical and war cartography for national identity in Eritrea


  • Alessandro Ricci Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Filosofico-Sociali, dei Beni Culturali e del Territorio, University of Rome Tor Vergata


This contribution proposes an examination of the symbolism of some war maps to be found in the Northern Red Sea Regional Museum of Massawa, in Eritrea. The Museum, built for the 10th anniversary of independence, shows the main symbols of Eritrean national identity and the maps assume a key-role in such exposition, since they reproduce the winning battles of Eritrea against Ethiopia fought right in Massawa. The first part of the article is about the main concepts on the different functions of the maps, seen not only as instruments for the fighting of battles and for other practical reasons, but even as a symbolism of a common national feeling: in the proposed case, the maps are shown at the entrance and in the last section of the Museum, assuming great relevance in the nationalistic purposes of the Museum. Then, a short assay of the Eritrean history during the struggle for independence is directly linked with the war maps analyzed. Particular attention will be paid to the map of the “Operation Inner Massawa” of 15 February 1990, which greatly contributed to the final victory. In conclusion, some geographical considerations are proposed on the strategic position of Eritrea and Massawa, the significance of the maps during the war and for the future generations, and the consequences of the war on the social situation today.


Bottaro L. (Ed.), Gli Italiani in Eritrea. Esploratori, Missionari, Medici e Artisti, Asmara, 2003.

Brotton J., La storia del mondo in dodici mappe, Milan, Feltrinelli, 2013.

Casti E., L’ordine del mondo e la sua rappresentazione. Semiosi cartografica e autoreferenza, Milan, Unicopli, 1998.

Casti E., Cartografia critica. Dal Topos alla Chora, Milan, Guerini, 2013.

Gessini M., La Guerra tra Etiopia ed Eritrea. 1998-2000, Rome, Gan, 2011.

Giordano A., Eritrea-Italia. Scenari politici, economici e culturali : atti del seminario del 13 ottobre 2010, Rome, Società Geografica Italiana, 2011.

Heijden van der H.A.M., Leo Belgicus. An Illustrated and Annotated Carto-bibliography, Utrecht, Canaletto Alphen aan den Rijn, 2006.

International Crisis Group, Eritrea: the Siege State, Africa report n. 163, 21 September 2010.

Iyob R., The Eritrean Struggle for Independence. Domination, resistance, nationalism 1941-1993, Cambridge, Camb-ridge University Press, 1995.

Montesanto G., De Marchi G. and Traverso G., Viaggio a Massawa. Storie, immagini e personaggi della perla del mar Rosso, Asmara, Liceo Marconi, 2009.

Nigusie A.A., Eritrea’s policy in the Horn of Africa (1993-2008), Saarbrücken, VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2011.

Panetta E., L’Italia in Africa. Studi italiani di etnologia e folklore dell’Africa orientale. Eritrea Etiopia Somalia, voll. I-II, Rome, Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1973-1974.

Pelletier M., “Carte e potere”, in VV.AA. (Eds.), Segni e sogni della Terra. Il disegno del mondo dal mito di Atlante alla geografia delle reti, Novara, De Agostini, 2001.

Péninou J.L., “The Ethiopian-Eritrean Border Conflict”, Boundary and Security Bulletin, 1998, pp. 46-50, https://www.dur. ac.uk/resources/ibru/publications/full/bsb6-2_peninou.pdf.

Reid R., “Old problems in new conflicts. Some observations on Eritrea and its relations with Tigray, from liberation struggle to inter-state war”, Africa, 73, 3, 2003, pp. 369-401.

Saleh M.A., The Saho of Eritrea. Ethnic identity and national consciousness, Zurich and Berlin, Lit Verlag, 2013.

Wilson A., The challenge road. Women and the Eritrean revolution, London, Earthscan, 1991.






Mapping societies (edited by Edoardo Boria)