Asmara, Eritrea’s isolated and picturesque capitals, is a beautiful and crime-free city that many will hardly believe exists in Africa. The city’s defining attractions are its incredible architecture, the most iconic being the Fiat Tagliero building, which was designed in 1938 when Eritrea was an Italian colony.
A tour of the city unveils a place you’ll almost call a “battleground for architectural creativity.” Well, I hate the word “battle” because the city has seen many battles, but the truth is that it also has emerged from every battle better off.
For that reason, I’ll say the most indelible battles in the city are those among the creative minds that built some of the city’s architecture. These structures, though built in the mid-20th centuries when the Italians were literarily the lord in Asmara, usually leave visitor—even some of the today’s best architects, gobsmacked.
Yes, they (the futurist architecture) have been around for quite a while, but the beautiful phase in which they froze the city has increased the call on UNESCO to list them among its World Heritage Sites. Well, whether or not they eventually are inscribed, no one can deny their peculiarity and characteristic picturesque and historic qualities.
In addition to these historic buildings of ancient neo-Romanesque and Victorian architectural styles, Asmara also enjoys a tranquil atmosphere and is arguably one of the neatest and safest cities in Africa.
The easiest thing to do in this city is to stroll around its main street, specifically Harnet Avenue, and take in some of the modernist and futurist’s architecture. The city’s designers had such a stroll in mind as shown by the broad boulevards and wide sidewalks. Puncture the walk with stop-offs for ice cream and deliciously cheap espresso and close the exercise with a cappuccino in a pavement café and pastry shop.
To view the whole city, the best bet is to climb the hill to the local mosque, while a visit to the main market gives you a feel of the traditional life. Here, you will see the different faces and dress styles of Eritrea, and you can buy spices, taste the foods and shop for a souvenir.
The local people are well cultured and pride themselves on their colonial heritage. The government also tries to instil a sense of national service and pride in the citizenry, though its tough stands on many issues, particularly its reclusive policy of self-reliance, immigration policy and approach to governance in modern era have frequently been criticized.
Whatever the criticism, Asmara has quite benefited in terms of turning from war to being one of the safest places in the world. The general sense of contentment among the city’s residents means you can leave your door unlocked and return to meet your property untouched and you can walk at night and the only fear you will have is one of stumbling on a piece of broken paving.
Feature Image by Saikol
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