Adulis Archaeological Site


Adulis was once the primary port of the Aksumite empire and a few impressive architectural remnants of this heritage remain. Most notable is the foundation of a large 5th-century Byzantine basilica. Archaeological work at Adulis (begun in 1840!) is ongoing, but moves slowly for a month or two each summer.

Local Saho tribal legends say that the name 'Adulis' originates from the words for 'white water', a testament to the settlement's proximity to the Red Sea and the Aksumite-era prosperity as a major port and trade link between the Roman empire and India. Aside from the basilica, most of the ruins are still quite buried and a healthy dose of imagination is necessary to make the most of a visit. All of the artefacts that have been recovered from the site are currently housed at museums in Asmara and Ethiopia, though look for a large pottery dump southeast of a large warren of excavated walls the original function of which are still unknown. Access to the site is free, but the suggested tip for the mandatory local guide is around nfa400.

It's around 50km from the mainland side of the causeway in Massawa to the village of Faro, which is the last spot to stock up on water or food. From Faro follow the highway until it descends to the river, then turn left into the desert on an extremely rough and poorly marked desert road.

A few kilometres south of the Adulis site is Zula village, full of traditional Tigre ethnic group houses and a 150-year-old well built by the Ottomans. It's worth stopping by on your way to or from the ruins.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Eritrea attractions

1. Green Island

25.62 MILES

Green Island is 10 to 20 minutes from Massawa and is the most accessible place for decent snorkelling and tolerable beaches. It's certainly no Bora Bora,…

2. Campo

26.56 MILES

A huge square lined on all sides by houses with trellised balconies, finely carved wooden doors, and shutters of Turkish or Egyptian origin. Local…

3. St Mariam Cathedral

26.57 MILES

Opposite the end of the causeway from the mainland is the Orthodox St Mariam Cathedral. While the building is lovely and the artwork speaks to the…

4. Sheikh Hanafi Mosque

26.58 MILES

At the centre of the Piazza degli Incendi (meaning 'Square of the Fire', after it was the scene of a great fire in 1885) is the Sheikh Hanafi Mosque. At…

5. War Memorial

26.61 MILES

At the foot of the mainland causeway is the massive monument to the Eritrean Struggle for Independence. Three huge tanks stand on a black marble base…

6. House of Abu Hamdum

26.63 MILES

A remarkable example of Turkish Ottoman architecture with its mashrabiyya (trellised) balcony, which allowed cool breezes to enter and the air inside to…

7. Covered Bazaar

26.64 MILES

Though now reflecting little of its former glory, the ancient roof of this market – in the Turkish style – was beamed like an upturned boat; there are…

8. House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari

26.68 MILES

The ancient House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari was built with magnificent soaring Ottoman-style windows on every side. Unfortunately they are particularly…