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World Heritage Site

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Asmara: A Modernist African City is an Italian planned colonial city based on early modernist architecture.

The urban ensemble was designed during several stages of development on an orthogonal grid plan with diagonal axes. The city was divided into quarters following the principles of racial segregation. During the short fascist period of 1935-1941 the city received its distinct modernist and rationalist public buildings, which mostly have survived intact since then.

Map of Asmara


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Solivagant UK - 20-Jun-08 -

Asmara by Solivagant

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 when we visited in Nov 2006 the Eritrean government was paranoid about foreigners (and from what I hear things haven't changed!) 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 somewhat 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 inscriptions 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

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Site Info

Full name: Asmara: A Modernist African City

Unesco ID: 1550

Inscribed: 2017

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 2   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2018 - Name change From Asmara: a Modernist City of Africa to Asmara: A Modernist African City
  • 2017 - Name change From TWHS "The Historic Perimeter of Asmara and its Modernist Architecture" to WHS nomination "Asmara, Africa’s Modernist City", and then again by ICOMOS to "Asmara: a Modernist City of Africa”.
  • 2017 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Asmara


The site has 24 connections.


  • Art Deco
  • Italian fascist architecture: Italian Fascist architecture e.g the former "Casa del Fascio (see link) and the "Casa degli Italiani" still has the "fasces" on the pillars at its entrance  Link
  • Garden City Movement: "The plan is also an early example of the implementation of urban zoning principles, championed by the contemporaneous Garden City Movement."  Link
  • Modern Urban Planning: "The creation of a complete urban landscape arising from the early implementation and continuous adaptation and development of modern urban planning theory in an African context at a vital stage in human history – between two world wars – is one of Asmara’s unique qualities" - see "brief description of nominated site"  Link
  • Neoclassical architecture: President's Palace: "Governor Ferdinando Martini wanted a structure with colonnades at the entrance in neoclassical style" (wiki)
  • Vernacular architecture: vernacular styles from the highlands were adopted and assimilated by Italian architects, engineers and planners in the design of buildings and public space


  • Loggia: e.g the "Great Mosque of Asmara - " The mosque was designed by Gudo Ferrazza in a blend of the architectural styles of Rationalist, Classical, and Islamic ...... Below the minaret, the mosque's fascia has a neoclassical loggia (exterior galleries), which is split in three parts" (Wiki)
  • Historic Cinemas: In particular Roma and Imperio. See -  Link
  • Theatres: Teatro Asmara - see  Link
  • Monumental Fountains: The Mai Jahjah fountain - Art Deco fountain formerly known as "La Fontana" renovated as part of preparation for Asmara's nomination Link
  • Freestanding Bell Tower: Enda Mariam Cathedral Link


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