By Esmonde M. Robertson
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Extra info for Mussolini as Empire-Builder: Europe and Africa, 1932–36
The road, running parallel with the railway, could only be described as a camel track, and it was scarcely capable of carrying any traffic during the wet season from June to September. 2. The highland zone of Eritrea is considerably drier than that of Tigre in Ethiopia to the south, from which foodstuffs had to be imported. An Italian estimate of 1934 (there was no proper census until 1961) reckoned that Eritrea had about 600,000 inhabitants. Less than one-third of these were Coptic Christians speaking Tigrinya (also the language of most of Tigre province in Ethiopia), which resembles Ge'ez, the classical language of Ethiopia, more closely than does Amharic, spoken in Addis Ababa and in the north-west.
That part of it known as the Zula Kar in the Danakil desert falls to approximately 400 feet below sea level, and parts of it were still unexplored in the early 1930s. The main value of the plain was the port of Massawa (whose average mean temperature of over 30°C. was the highest recorded in the world). Thanks to its off-shore islands, Massawa was relatively secure from a naval attack and in 1933-4 was extended as a naval base. But Massawa lay 2000 miles from Naples and was capable of providing for only four or five ships carrying a monthly cargo of 2000 tons.
Altogether the visit was an abysmal failure. Aloisi was disappointed to learn that Mussolini 'gave way' to Goring who, against the advice of Hassell, raised the delicate question of an Anschluss. According to a contemporary observer, Goring tactlessly lectured his host, but Mussolini did not understand what was being said because the table between them was six metres broad and bedecked with roses. 5 It is not known for certain what Mussolini told Dollfuss, who was also in Rome that Easter. He no longer toyed with the idea of a Red - Black coalition, but insisted that Dollfuss must fight against the Socialists, 'otherwise he is lost'.