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The Historic Perimeter of Asmara and its Modernist Architecture

The Historic Perimeter of Asmara and its Modernist Architecture is part of the Tentative List in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Click here for a short description of the site, as delivered by the State Party


Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
I entered into Eritrea from Axum, in Ethiopia, in the year 1993, a few months before Eritrea was recognized by the United Nations. In the first village that I crossed, two old men asked me whether I was Italian, in net Italian language, and where drinking vermouth Martini. And once I reached Asmara, the capital, the old Italian part of the town (Italians also practised apartheid) was of large avenues and there lived many christians people with their catholic and Ethiopians churches.
Since I had very limited time (my Sudanese visa was almost expiring), I had to leave in direction to Khartum overland, therefore I only visited during two days Asmara and Masawa, and left for a future trip the east, the interesting Danakil area.
The way to Masawa was spectacular. You descend from several thousand metres (Eritrea also shares the Valley of the Rift, like Ethiopia) to the sea level. Masawa was a much destroyed town owing to the long war to independence from Ethiopia, and is more exotic to visit for a foreigner than Asmara. In Masawa practically everybody is muslim and the women cover their faces with a chador.
Date posted: August 2014
Paul Tanner (UK):
Well - could you guess that this is Africa (photo)? Just 1 of the amazing Art Deco buildings in Asmara. There is a fine book which catalogues all (most?) of the relevant buildings in the city - but I only found it at the airport when leaving. And there are a lot of these buildings. There are at least 4 "time warp" cinemas ranging in condition from "lovingly restored" to "in grave danger of falling down" The best are still in use and still have the original ticket offices etc and very pleasant cafes. This iconic Fiat garage/petrol station is unfortunately in sad need of repair. There are also a number of governmental buildings, public squares etc and innumerable private dwellings - anyone interested in architecture will be able to spend a good number of hours exploring the Art Deco heritage of this pleasant capital with its pleasant climate. Mussolini foresaw great things for this colony and spared no expense in demonstrating the greatness to which his empire aspired! Look out for the "Fasces" still decorating the pillars outside the Italian club
Unfortunately the Eritrean government is paranoid about foreigners and I was marched off with an, I fear, loaded rifle sticking in my back by an angry conscript for photographing 1 of the cinemas - luckily I was "rescued" by an educated local who sorted things out. But Eritrea is like that - a mixture of totalitarian xenophobia with pockets of educated internationalism (The Eritrean Diaspora living worldwide but particularly in N America numbers some 850,000 or a fifth of the current homeland population). Its long struggle for independence and its revolutionary leaders' Marxist background has created a country with a somwhat psychotic personality! As a foreigner you need specific permission to visit anywhere outside Asmara and places we had planned to visit were withdrawn without reason and without notice from the list of available destinations. Asmara is far and away the "star" of what you are likely to be able to see in the country. Napier (NZ) and South Beach Miami are other possible Art Deco insicriptions but Asmara has that added dimension of "surprise" for its location and of "history" for its colonial background. Whether Eritrea will ever be able to bring it to a suitable state for ICOMOS's satisfaction is another matter
Date posted: June 2008

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The Historic Perimeter of Asmara and its Modernist Architecture
This site is part of the Tentative list of: Eritrea

Site History:
2005 Tentative list
Submitted as tentative site by State Party

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