The mountain city Keren is the largest of the five major secondary towns in Eritrea with a population of 120,000 and the regional capital of the Anseba Region. The majority of the population are Muslim. There is a distinctly Muslim feel to the town.
Keren is a beautiful town and is often visited by those wanting a change of scene from Asmara or Massawa. The name Keren means highland. The sun rises over one set of peaks in the east and sets over another set in the west. Depending on where you stay, rising for the dawn does not present a problem as the muezzin is likely to act as your early morning call.
Keren is one of the major agricultural centers of Eritrea, particularly for fruits and vegetables. To the west the region is known for its banana plantations. In addition its dairy herds supply fresh milk, butter and the cheese factory produces provolone and other cheeses.
There is a town market, where silver items may be purchased, and a wood market, where camels gather on the dry river bed. On Mondays there is a livestock market in a walled compound on the hillside along the road leading south from town. Cattle, sheep and goats, camels and donkeys are bought and sold.
Keren hosts many examples of Italian and Ethiopian colonial heritage. Overlooked by a seemingly impregnable Egyptian 19th century fortress (Tigu), which still bristles with Ethiopian army cannon, Keren boasts stylish public buildings and a Romanesque Catholic church. There are good views from the top of the fort (1460m). At its foot lie the ruins of the old Imperial Palace, which were destroyed during the Struggle in 1977.
At one time Keren boasted not one but two railway stations. One of them now serves as the local bus station, both for the buses to Asmara, Nacfa and Barentu and for the yellow Toyota taxi buses that intersect Keren. The speed of life is best exemplified by the fact that camels and donkeys still outnumber cars.