Dahlak Islands, The Natural Jewel in the Red Sea

Dahlak Islands, The Natural Jewel in the Red Sea

Landscapes, for thousands of years on the margins of history. An excerpt from the book by Giuseppe De Marchi, Giampaolo Montesanto and Guido Traverso. The presentation in the Suq Sunday 23



Sunday, June 23, 2013 11:05




Sunday, June 23  at 17 o'clock in the  Suq Festival  takes place the presentation of the book by  Giuseppe De Marchi, Giampalo Montesanto and Guido Traverso ,   Dahlak Islands. The archipelago of the Eritrean Red Sea at the edge of history   (Erga, 2013, p. 240, 18 Eu). It introduces the volume together with the authors, the journalistTeresa Tacchella.

Read also on mentelocale.it: Travel in Eritrea , the reportage of Laura Guglielmi and view photo gallery above , produced by Laura Guglielmi in 2009 for his reporting from Eritrea and the Dahlak Islands.


At Dahlak sometimes time seems to stand still. 
Islands and almost forgotten as if waiting for someone to explore.
Flocks of seabirds that do not associate the man at the rifle. 
A soil that has never known the violence of the plow. 
A barrier reef, still untouched, seething with a rainbow of fish. 
lights of the coast of the city, only a faint light on the horizon. 
And at night, a hemisphere of stars on hand.

At Dahlak sometimes you go back in time. 
A shard of obsidian emerges from the erosion of a fossil dune. 
A fragment of Roman amphora is lulled by the surf. 
Millenarie basalt stones in Kufic script invoke Allah's mercy. 
Colorful bracelets color places on the hills of the antique stores of the Red Sea. 
A cannon lies defeated in defense of a sea finally at peace. 
Dahlak At the time for a moment back to the present. 
Bottles of plastic and neon lamps are trying to trace the beaches.
A trawler profane a virgin bottom. 
An oil rig drilling success without the belly of the sea in search of his black blood.

Yet the Dahlak to win it is still nature, with its unspoiled beauty, a show that offers itself in all its purity in the eyes of the visitor arousing emotion and wonder.

The enchantment for these places, interest in a story not yet fully told, the desire to help preserve as much as possible the environment of Dahlak, are among the reasons that led us to tell the fascination with texts and images an archipelago yet to be discovered.

Origins – young Islands

To see the Dahlak get there close. These islands are low, very low sea level. Isratu, the highest, is set just 36 meters over the warm waters of the Red Sea, but the others are much lower, strips of sand and rocks that were corals. These islands are young, still emerging from the sea that created them. These islands are rapidly changing, with the sea cliffs that slowly erodes the base until they fall, with sandbars that stretch northward or southward depending on the prevailing wind. These islands are young, but to understand its origin we must go far back in time and follow the formation of the Red Sea.


The Dahlak are in an enviable condition. This is due to the delay in the economic development of Eritrea because of the thirty-year war of liberation from Ethiopia, which ended in 1991, and the subsequent conflict over the boundaries between 1998 and 2000. A few years ago the installation of an oil platform in the waters of the archipelago, between the islands of Dur Dur Gaam and Ghella, was a tangible sign that the Dahlak times were changing. The oil was not found, but the need for productive development remained. Of course the locals have always drawn from the islands and the sea that surrounds food and products to be traded. The fish has always been fish, turtles and dugongs are always finite in the nets and consumed, the eggs of seabirds have always been harvested for household consumption, the wood of mangroves and acacia trees used as fuel, the goats have always grazed climbing also the acacias, but it all happened in a very limited scale and sustainable for the environment. All of this is inevitably destined to change, considering the fundamental role that the sea can play in the development of a relatively poor country like Eritrea resources: the key point is how to reconcile development with the preservation of those riches that make environmental and biological Dahlak Islands an untouched natural paradise, and avoid repeating mistakes in other parts of the world have seriously altered the delicate balance of island ecosystems.


Since ancient times the Red Sea was a communication channel for boats that traded the products of its rich coasts or who, driven by the monsoons, they headed to India to procure the precious merchandise of those distant lands. The history of the Dahlak Islands, given their geographical location, is inevitably intertwined with the military events and trade for over four millennia interested the ancient Sea Erythraeum .


Agatharchides of Cnidus (second century BC) and Artemidorus (II-I century BC) were the first to describe the African coast of the Red Sea and their inhabitants known as "troglodytes" and "piscivorous". Agatharchides and the works of Artemidorus, go largely lost, we inform the greek geographer Strabo in hisGeography , composed in the early years of the Christian era, where they are mentioned for the first time the port of Elaia, probably Dahlak Kebir, and a unidentified island of Strato. A few decades after even the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) refers, in his Naturalis Historia , for Aliaea (Elaia), the island of Strato and Adulis.

The conquest of Egypt by the Romans in 30 AD ushered in a new era of trade along the Sea Erytraeum which now routes leading to India, a land renowned for its products, especially for spices. The discovery by the greek Ippalo of the monsoon winds, which for some months of the year blow from the Red Sea to the Indian mainland and vice versa, allowed the Romans to directly reach the distant spice markets without the intermediation of Arab merchants. The maritime traffic and trade greatly increased: in the time of Tiberius (14-37 AD) at least a hundred boats a year crossed the Roman Mare Rubrum . There was at that time a guide for travelers and traders who wanted to make the journey from Egypt to India: The Periplus of the Eritrean Sea. It is an anonymous text, written by an Egyptian merchant greek presumably in the second half of the first century AD, where lists and describes the various stations along the ancient sea route of spices. In the Periplus is the first description of the island of Dissei in the text is called Oreiné, or "the cloud", distant 200 stadia from the innermost point of the Gulf to the open sea and sheltered from the mainland on both sides. Today the boats that take ground anchor to prevent attacks on this island from the mainland . On the island of Dissei you can still guess the point of arrival of the Roman ships, now buried, placed in a bay on the western side of the island, as it is possible to identify the remains of the village that served as a market. In December 2009, in the old village, was found a coin dating back to 126 AD, or at the time of the Emperor Hadrian. The Periplus also describes with precision the path through which the goods were transported from the capital Axum to the sea passing the ancient city of Koloe (the current archaeological site of Cohaito): Oreiné opposite the island, a 20-stage from the sea, there is Adulis, a village just the right size. It is a three days' journey from the city of Coloe, in the interior, the main center for the ivory trade.From here to the capital, called Axomite, there are other five days . Regarding the fauna at that time populated Eritrea: the totality of elephants and rhinos graze in the highlands, but sometimes you can see them too close to the sea, right on the outskirts of Adulis .

The name Alalaios, referring to the Dahlak Islands, results when the anonymous author, speaking of the port of Oreiné adds thatin front of the port of quell'emporio, in the open sea on the right side, lies a wealth of sandy islets Alalaiou calls from which come the turtle shells that are transported there by piscivorous to be sold . The island then, thanks to the continuous changes of the imperial fleets of Augustus, Tiberius, Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, became a strategic point in the exchange of goods between the Mediterranean, India and the Ethiopian plateau. Roman coins found in the area of Adulis and Axum, bear witness of trafficking that took place until the fifth century.

Giuseppe De Marchi, Giampaolo Montesanto, Guido Traverso© copyright Mentelocale Srl, Reproduction.

The three authors of the book: Joseph de Marchi, Giampalo Montesanto and Guido Traverso

Software Translation from Italian