On July 8, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Center announced that “Asmara: a Modernist City of Africa,” would become Eritrea’s very first site on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, under selection criterion ii and iv. Asmara was once an Italian colony—from the late 1880s through World War II. As a result, the Eritrean capital became a canvas for Italian architects like Giuseppe Pettazzi to build modernist and Art Deco buildings like the Fiat Tagliero and the Cinema Impero buildings. Today, the city remains a well-preserved example of Italian colonial and modernist architecture. According to UNESCO, the designated area includes part of the city that underwent extensive planning between 1893 and 1941, as well as the neighborhoods of Arbate Asmara and Abbashawel.
The World Heritage Committee meets once per year in one of UNESCO’s State Parties. During its 41st session, which was held in Krakow, Poland, between July 2 and 12, the committee inscribed 21 new sites on the World Heritage List. This increased the total number of World Heritage Sites to 1,073.
Located at over 2 000m above sea level, the capital of Eritrea developed from the 1890s onwards as a military outpost for the Italian colonial power. After 1935, Asmara underwent a large scale programme of construction applying the Italian rationalist idiom of the time to governmental edifices, residential and commercial buildings, churches, mosques, synagogues, cinemas, hotels, etc. The property encompasses the area of the city that resulted from various phases of planning between 1893 and 1941, as well as the indigenous unplanned neighbourhoods of Arbate Asmera and Abbashawel. It is an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context.
Photographs: © Asmara Heritage Project