Asmara an open mind capital
During the 1920’s and 1930’s, colonial architects and planners drawing inspiration from the masters. Laid out stylish new cities and designed, buildings that were bold and vigorous, yet expressed the lightness sensuality and space of the tropics.
Throughout the former European colonies, fine examples of tropical Art Deco attest to this age of exuberance and innovation.
Usually, we find only examples, sometimes a group of buildings possibly a whole street, but in Eritrea stand a complete Art Deco city by the Italians in the 1930’s virtually intact due to the solution of war.
Eritrea, lying between the African Arab and Mediterranean worlds has always been pray to foreign influences and invasion. A land of high culture during classical times it forged close ties with Greece and Rome. The portages, the Turks and the Egyptians had their influence, spanning centuries before the Italians set foot on the land during the 1930’s Mussolini expanded the economy in preparation for his grandiose launch of a Roman empire in Africa.
It was during this boom that modern Asmara was built and between 1935 and 1938, the city resembled a vast building site as architect’s engineers, craft men to laborers poured it the colony. By 1940, Eritrea was second most industrialized country in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mussolini’s world is not usually associated with beauty, but when the Italians built Asmara, they did it with the style and elegance for which they are historically renowned. Influenced by the beautiful landscape and the desert light, is in the spring of the age, they created a dazzling International modern city which was planned and well built, functional and of great aesthetic appeal.
Although part of an ambitious colonial plan, Asmara was designed as much for people as for commerce. It has not changed whole suburbs of art deco villas spread out across the sun-warmed hills. Cinemas, shops, factories, filling stations, offices, hospitals, churches, mosques and swimming pools were all built in this cool clean style Mediterranean modern in the mountains of Africa.
Many of the great architectural schools of the period are represented throughout the city: Italian rationalism, Italian futurism and Novecento; streamline modern, Bauhaus, Expressionism, Functionalism to Cubism. The old Palazzo Mutton on Liberation Avenue, now the Wikianos supermarket, resembles a scaled-down version of the famous Novo Comum in Como by Giuseppe Tarragni, one of the founding members of Italy’s Gruppo 7.
The Coptic Cathedral and two towers topped with tukuls, could be a new version of Piacentini’s Chiese di Cristo Re in Rome. And according to Professor Sandro Raffone, of Naples, the streamlined cinema capitol strongly influenced by Mendelssohn, the German expressionist who designed the revolutionary Einstein Tower in Potsdam Germany.
These are just a few examples of Asmara outstanding architectural heritage. This style the setting the climate and the calm dignity of the people today make Asmara one of the most peaceful, charming and civilized cities in the world.
Eritrea is a land of great diversity Great empires have marched across it and left their mark. These empires are now dead. With Eritrean’s cautious but imaginative approach to development a dignified future could be created out of this turbulent past. Preserving Asmara, yet developing it with sensitivity could become a show piece for Eritrea as it once was for Italy. It could become a model of urban living as it once was a model of empire.
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