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Asmara in Eritrea - Africas Capital of Modernism

House-high palm trees line the main street of Asmara, as if a town from the Italian Riviera have been added on the African plateau. Asmara is close to heaven: At nearly 2,400 meters above sea level it is located in the East African highlands.

Asmara, the capital of this tiny East African state of Eritrea is Africa's secret capital of modernism. More than 400 buildings in the Art Deco, Futurism, Rationalism and functionalism were left by the Italian colonial power here. They were built mainly in the 1930s. Through non-compliance and lack of money, almost all has been preserved and so Asmara has become a museum of modern architecture.

A gas station as an icon of the architecture of a city

Fiat Tagliero - perhaps the most beautiful gas station in the world. In the vernacular it was immediately called l'aeroplano, the aircraft, when built in 1938. According to the former Italian zoning regulations it would not have been allowed to build so far overhanging roofs without any staves. During construction, architect Pettazzi only let set up wooden posts, which he had let removed at completion.

The Cinema Impero

A separate chapter in the history of architecture of Asmara, the movie theaters: The Cinema Impero has an Art Deco facade, designed for the night. A cinema made for great evening premieres, located right on the boulevard. During the Italian colonial rule admission was only granted to white people of course.

Nda Mariam - the Coptic Cathedral of Asmara

It lies on the peak of a hill on the northeast edge of downtown Asmara. The church is dedicated to Maria and has a far reaching history. According to legend as long ago as 400 BC, the israeli Ark of the Covenant was brought here from Jerusalem. More likely is the tradition that in pre-Christian time at this point a Sabaean temple was situated and the first Christian church was built here in the 7th century. The present church building was constructed after plans of the Italian engineer O. Cavagnari on a square floor plan in the style of classical modernism.

The leap Asmaras into the modernism is not only remarkable from an urbanistic and architectural point of view, it also reflects the ambivalence of modernity on the African continent. Thus Asmara's urban constitution and bloom at the same time stands for fascism and Italy's expansionist policy against what was then Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Colonial segregation and the from 1937 adopted fascist race laws found their way into town planning and accompanied the everyday life until the conquest by British troops in 1941.

However, over the years the Eritrean population accepted the city. Thus, a unique city of modernism with European-Italian and African-Eritrean cultures has developed. In this atmosphere of tolerance, which is also called "Asmara Style", the different cultures, religions, communities and ethnic groups live together in the capital of the since 1991 independent East African country.

In 2001 the Centre for the Preservation of Eritrea's Cultural Heritage (CARP) successfully convinced the Eritrean government to put the entire city center of Asmara under monumental protection.

An exhibition of Asmara, which was designed at the Bauhaus Dessau and is based on photographs of the British photographer Edward Denison is touring wordwide for several years already. It was already located in Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Turin, Bologna, Graz, Egypt , Nigeria and Togo shown. At the moment it is in Munich and will be shown until 19 August 2012 in the Pasinger Fabrik gezeigt.


Source: oe1.ORF.at, Deutsches Architekturmuseum

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