Asmara is one of the oldest cities of Eritrea designed by the Italians. The foundations of the city are believed to have been built some 700 years ago. It became an experimental space for architects interested in medieval designs.
The result is the thousands of buildings erected in distinct styles including Futurist, Novocento, Rationalist, and Art Deco, part of the grand city plan that came with boulevards and wide sidewalks, World Monuments Fund writes.
A sizable number of the buildings were constructed between 1935 and 1941 at a time when Asmara had become the main city of Italian dictator Mussolini’s empire in Africa.
After becoming the capital of the Italian colony in the late 19th century, the city grew to become a sizable town by the 1920s. In the 1930s, many Italians moved to the region in preparation for Mussolini’s planned invasion of Ethiopia.
It is sound for historians to say Asmara is an Italian-built colonial city. But, the inhabitants have an interesting history of the Eritrean capital they cherish. It is believed that Asmara is made up of four clans on the Kebessa Plateau namely the Gheza Gurtom, the Gheza Shelele, the Gheza Serenser and Gheza Asmae.
Oral tradition posits that the women of the region which will be known as Asmara advised the four clans to form a unit and fight the enemy that was waging war against them. Arbaete Asmara became the new name of the area the four clans that had united lived in. In the Tigrinya language, Arbaete Asmara literally means “the four are united”, according to asmera.nl. Arbaete was eventually dropped and the area has been called Asmara. Another local legend states that the Queen of Sheba gave birth to a son, Menelik I, in Asmara.
Asmara was decreed as the capital of colonial Eritrea in preference to Massawa by Governor Martini in 1897. That explains why there is a significant presence of Italian infrastructure, architecture and cultural export in native Asmara.
Modern wars between Eritrea and Ethiopia have had little impact on the architecture of Asmara. Despite being left to rot by Ethiopian authorities when they exercised military control over Eritrea, the city has still maintained its charm and beauty. The Eritrean government upon assuming control of the colonial capital in 1991 began a massive renovation of the city’s infrastructure.
Today, Asmara is the largest city in Eritrea with more than 560 people. Located on a highland plateau at the center of Eritrea, Asmara is acknowledged as one of the safest places for tourists. It has offerings that will delight any tourist, from boutiques and coffee shops to restaurants that carry an aura of southern Italy. Asmara was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.