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Asmara: Hub of Ancient and Contemporary Architecture (part I)

Panorama of Asmara Buildings
The ancient history of Asmara goes back to the cluster of villages that later joined together to form the origin of the present day Amara. The four villages include Geza Serensir, Geza Asma’a, Geza Gurotom and Geza Shilele. Each of the villages had their own Churches which are among the wonders of Asmara for its unique style and architecture. The Saint Mary Church, Saint Gabriel, Saint Georgis are among the many ancient Churches of ancient Asmara, which was then called Arbate Asmara. Arbate Asmara means the merging of four villages.

Little is known about the development of Asmara following the foundation of Arbate Asmara. But in 1866 it become the head quarter of the most important indigenous ruler of the central high land called GURADE ZERAY.  In 1875 the Egyptians occupied the coastal area and in 1865 they raided the highland part of the country causing the population to flee. By 1885 the Italians occupied the port city of Massawa and later Asmara. 

High in the mountains forming the northern most reaches of Africa; mighty rift valley seems an unlikely location for urban idyll. However, on a plateau at an attitude of well over two kilometers high above the clouds is located the remarkable city. Asmara is one of the highest contractions of modern architecture in the world. Asmara is by any standard one of the well planed with magnificent display of architecture of different styles.

During the Italian colonial period (1882-1941) considerable construction skills and technique were invested in developing forms of town planning, infrastructure and above all architecture. Interpreted with particular sensitivity both with contemporary European influences and the international trends of the day.

Examples of Neo-classical, eclectic, rationalism or decorative and monumental architecture
can be found and documented in the building of the city. Such as the university of Asmara ,the main court building and the central post office.

Taken as a whole, however, Asmara is architectural heritage and is broadly representative of two particular languages of style influenced by the Italian architects.

The buildings erected in the first phase (from end19 century to 1920)feature techniques, a use of material and an architectural form characterized primarily by the Eclectic style in which a special role is played by the free interpretation a variety of different architectural languages borrowed from the European classical era, middle ages and the Renaissance.


The second phase from the twenties to forties was influenced by the rationalist trends emerging and being discussed in Europe at that time. It would be no exaggeration to talk about in terms of an innovative artistic conception in which architectural language started dialogue with the technical and scientific knowledge of the day. As an analysis of space its function led to an original, almost unique articulation and volumes.

With out wishing to go the tragic events during the Fascist period and restricting our selves to the field of architecture developments it can be said that the era has been an instrumental in opening new professional horizons for Italian architects and engineers. The Italian engineers and architects at that time found a special occasion in which they could demonstrate their skills of excellence in designing and construction. Asmara became their domain in which they found the opportunity to demonstrate what kind of a city they could build.

The fact that three constriction techniques were widely employed on the plain of
Asmara when the Italians arrived and it is important to understand why the Italians adopted certain references to vernacular Eritrean architecture in some of their buildings, and the way in which the location of these structures as well as that of early Italian settlements.

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