Piles of discarded metal, rubber, wood, and plastic greet workers and visitors alike to Asmara’s Medeber market. Here, scrap material is repurposed by welders and craftspeople to make new kitchen appliances, furniture, bicycles, household utensils, and more in Eritrea’s capital city.
The open-air workshop was used as a caravan trade post in pre-colonial days, until Italian architect Odoardo Cavagnari redesigned the city of Asmara in the early 1900s, about three decades after Italy occupied and colonized Eritrea. From the very beginning, Medeber market was an upcycler’s dream of scrap metal and retired machinery. Innovative craftspeople and artisans recreated essential items that were either rare or extraordinarily expensive in Eritrea, due to high Italian importation fees. Although colonial taxes and tariffs are long past, the handiwork of Medeber’s artisans continues to fill a gap of affordability. Ovens out of oil drums, shovels out of car frames, and pots out of melted food containers—ingenuity knows no bounds here.
Medeber’s welders themselves are as iconic as the market, and are known for their unique handmade welding masks made with cardboard, plastic, and other found items. One of the best-known finds at the market are the shida, sandals fashioned from old rubber tires that were so important during the Eritrean war for independence that there’s a giant statue dedicated to them in Asmara.
A secondary, though no less impressive, draw of Medeber comes from the smaller spice section, where electric mills crushing ingredients together adds a layer of flavor to the market’s electric cacophony. The best-known spice is called berbere, a powerful flavor eponymous with much Eritrean cuisine. Artists also set up shop at Medeber, selling scarves, bags, clay coffee pots, religious icons, and more.
Some sections of the market were damaged in a fire in 2019, but the outdoor marketplace remained largely intact and continues to be an active workspace. Visitors can find Medeber Market behind Asmara’s Nda Mariam Orthodox church and should enter at the layered brick and stone gateway topped by a turret.