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Asmara (formerly Asmera) is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, home to a population of around 579,000 people. At an elevation of over 2,000 meters (7000 feet), Asmara is on the edge of an escarpment that is both the northwestern edge the Great Rift Valley and the northern end of the Ethiopian highlands. Textiles and clothing, processed meat, beer, shoes, and ceramics are the major industrial products.


[edit] History

Asmara grew from four villages founded in the twelfth century. Originally, it is said, there were four clans living in the Asmara area on the Kebessa Plateau: Gheza Gurtom, Gheza Shelele, Gheza Serenser and Gheza Asmae. Encouraged by their women, the men united the four clans and defeated the bandits who preyed on the area. After the victory, a new name was given to the place, Arbaete Asmara which literally means, in the Tigrinya language, the four are united. Eventually Arbaete was dropped and it has been called Asmara, though there is still a zone called Arbaete Asmara. Another legend tells that in this region the Queen of Sheba gave birth to the son of Solomon, Menelik I.

It was colonised by Italy in 1889 and became the national capital in 1897. In the early 20th century, a railway line was built to the coast, passing through the town of Ghinda, under the direction of Carlo Cavanna. In the late 1930s the Italians changed the face of the town, with a new structure and new buildings; Asmara was called Piccola Roma (Little Rome). Nowadays the major part of buildings are of Italian origin, and shops still have Italian names (e.g. Bar Vittoria, Pasticceria moderna, Casa del formaggio, and Ferramenta).

During the Eritrean war for independence from Ethiopia, Asmara's airport became a key in the conflict, as it was used by the Ethiopians to obtain arms and supplies from outside supporters. The last town to fall to the Eritrean People's Liberation Front in the Eritrean War of Independence, it was besieged in 1990 and was surrendered by Military of Ethiopia troops without a fight on May 24, 1991.

In Asmara the main languages are Tigrinya, Tigre and Arabic. Italian and English are widely spoken and understood.<ref> Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Features

Eritrea National Museum

The city is home to the Eritrean National Museum and is known for its early twentieth century buildings, including the Art Deco Cinema Impero, Cubist Africa Pension, eclectic Orthodox Cathedral and former Opera House, the futurist Fiat Tagliero Building, neo-Romanesque Roman Catholic Cathedral, and the neoclassical Governor's Palace. The city is littered with Italian colonial villas and mansions. Most of central Asmara was built between 1935 and 1941, so effectively the Italians managed to build almost an entire city, in just six short years.<ref name="Reviving Asmara">"Reviving Asmara", BBC 3 Radio, 2005-06-19. Retrieved on 2006-08-30. (in English)</ref> Asmara's entire existence is due to the Italian quest for expansion in North Africa. At this time, the dictator Mussolini had great plans for a second Roman Empire in Africa. War cut this short however, but his injection of funds adversely made Asmara what it is today, and was supposedly a symbol that Facism was working and an ideal system of government. This effectively means that Asmara is one of those great accidents in history, which is due to nationalism and imperialism. Other examples include the space race and the nuclear arms race.

The city shows off most early 20th century architectural styles; some buildings are neo-Romanesque , such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral, some villas are built in a late Victorian style. Art Deco influences are found throughout the city; essentially Asmara was then what Dubai is now. Architects were given only the bounds of their imagination and were given the funds to create masterpieces which we can see today. Essences of Cubism can be found on the Africa Pension Building, and on a small collection of buildings. The Fiat Tagliero Building shows almost the height of futurism, just as it was coming into big fashion in Italy. In recent times, some buildings have been functionally built which sometimes can spoil the atmosphere of some cities, but they fit into Asmara as it is such a modern city.

Asmara is also home to the University of Asmara and a nineteenth century fort. It is served by Asmara International Airport, and is connected to the port of Massawa by the Eritrean Railway.

Asmara is also the see of the archbishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, which became autocephalous in 1993. The archbishop was elevated in 1998 to the rank of Patriarchate of Eritrea, at par with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Asmara was known to be an exceptionally modern city, not only because of its architecture, but Asmara also had more traffic lights than Rome did when the city was being built. <ref name="Reviving Asmara">"Reviving Asmara", BBC 3 Radio, 2005-06-19. Retrieved on 2006-08-30. (in English)</ref> The city incorporates many features of a planned city. Indeed, Asmara was an early example of an ideal modern city created by architects, an idea which was introduced into many cities across the world, such as Brasilia, but which was not altogether popular. Features include designated city zoning and planning, wide treed boulevards, political areas and districts and space and scope for development. Asmara was not built for the Eritreans however; the Italians built it primarily for themselves. One unfortunate aspect of the city's planning was areas designated for Italians, and Eritreans, each disproportionately sized.

The city has been regarded as New Rome or Italy's African City due to its quintessential Italian touch, not only for the architecture, but also for the wide streets, piazzas and coffee bars. There are numerable pizzerias and coffee bars, serving cappucinos and lattes, as well as ice cream parlours. The people in Asmara dress in a unique, yet African style. Asmara is also highly praised for its peaceful, crime-free environment.

Asmara has been proposed as a possible new addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites<ref name="Reviving Asmara" />, under the direction of the Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project, for its outstanding examples of 20th century architecture and town planning. Many of these historic buildings are not currently being taken care of and there is a serious risk that this heritage could be lost.

[edit] Gallery

[edit] Further reading

  • Edward Denison, Guang Yu Ren, Naigzy Gebremedhin and Guang Yu Ren - Asmara: Africa's Secret Modernist City (2003) ISBN 1-85894-209-8

[edit] References

<references />

[edit] External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • History of Asmara An excellent website about the city
  • HolmeInAfrica Two VSO volunteers spend a year living in Asmara, Eritrea
  • Eritrea In Pictures Hundreds of pictures of Art Deco and Moderne Asmara, with some of its most and least famous beautiful buildings on

Coordinates: 15°20′N 38°56′Eam:አስመራ ar:أسمرة bs:Asmara bg:Асмара ca:Asmara da:Asmara de:Asmara et:Asmara el:Ασμάρα es:Asmara eo:Asmara fr:Asmara ko:아스마라 io:Asmara id:Asmara, Eritrea it:Asmara he:אסמרה sw:Asmara la:Asmara lt:Asmara hu:Aszmara nl:Asmara ja:アスマラ no:Asmara pl:Asmara pt:Asmara ru:Асмэра sk:Asmara fi:Asmara sv:Asmara tr:Asmara uk:Асмара zh:阿斯馬拉


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