Asmara

The Fiat Garage

Click on this photo to see pictures of Asmara.

Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea and is situated on the eastern edge of Eritrea’s highland plateau. It is the largest settlement in the country, home to a population of around 579,000 people. At an elevation of 2,325 metres (7,628 ft), Asmara is on the edge of an escarpment that is both the northwestern edge of the Great Rift Valley and of the Eritrean Highlands.  Asmara enjoys a great climate, clean and picturesque streets, attractive palm trees, and a reputation as one of the safest, calm and alluring capital cities in Africa. The name is derived from Arbaete Asmara which literally means, in the Tigrinya language, “the four (villages) are united”.

Asmara was occupied by Italy in 1889 and was made the capital city of Eritrea in preference to the port of Massawa by Governor Martini in 1897. In the late 1930s the Italians changed the face of the town, with a new structure and new buildings: Asmara was called Piccola Roma (Little Rome).

While Eritrea was under Italian colonial rule, early-20th-century Europeans used Asmara to experiment with radical new designs and consequently the city acquired an Italian architectural look.  Nowadays the majority of buildings are of Italian origin with an art deco feel, and many shops still have Italian names (e.g., Bar VittoriaPasticceria modernaCasa del formaggio, and Ferramenta).

When Italy was defeated in 1941,  the British administered the city and the rest of the country until 1952.  The British maintained initially the Italian administration of Eritrea, but the country soon started to be involved in a violent process of independence (from the British in the late forties and after 1952 from the Ethiopians, who annexed Eritrea in that year).

In 1952, the United Nations resolved to federate the former colony under Ethiopian rule. During the federation, Asmara was no longer the capital city. The capital was now Addis Ababa, over 1000 kilometers to the south. The national language of the city was changed from Tigrinyan to the Ethiopian Amharic langauge. In 1961, emperor Haile Selassie ended the “federal” arrangement and declared the territory to be the 14th province of the Ethiopian Empire. In 1961, the Eritrean War of Independence began only ending in 1991 with independence of Eritrea.  After independence, Asmara, again became the capital of Eritrea.

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