From Past to Present: The Evolution of Asmara, Eritrea’s Architecture

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is a city that tells a story through its buildings. It’s a tale that spans from the early 20th century to the present day, with each structure reflecting a chapter in the city’s rich history. I’ve strolled down the palm-lined boulevards of this Highland city, marveling at the unique blend of architectural styles. From Italian Futurist buildings to Art Deco masterpieces, Asmara’s architecture is a feast for the eyes and a testament to its multicultural past.

The Italian Influence

In the 1930s, Asmara underwent a transformation. Italian architects, drawn by the colonial ambitions of Mussolini, descended upon the city. They brought with them the sleek lines and geometric forms of Modernism. The Fiat Tagliero Building, with its airplane-like wings, is a standout example. It’s a gas station that looks ready to take flight, embodying the Futurist fascination with speed and movement.

Art Deco Jewels

Wandering through the city center, you can’t help but notice the Art Deco gems that dot the landscape. The Cinema Impero is one such jewel. With its intricate facade and elegant interior, it harks back to a bygone era of glamour. These buildings are more than just pretty facades; they’re symbols of a cosmopolitan Asmara that thrived in the early 20th century.

Religious Monuments

Asmara’s religious architecture is as diverse as its people. The St. Joseph’s Cathedral, with its Romanesque revival style, stands as a beacon of the city’s Catholic heritage. Meanwhile, the Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque showcases Islamic influences with its beautiful minaret and dome. These sacred spaces offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling city streets.

Preservation and Progress

In 2017, Asmara’s unique cityscape earned it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This recognition has spurred efforts to preserve its architectural treasures. Yet, the city is not stuck in the past. New developments are carefully planned to complement the historic fabric, ensuring that Asmara’s architecture continues to evolve while respecting its heritage.

Living Museums

Many of Asmara’s buildings serve as living museums, still in use today. Offices, shops, and cafes occupy these historic spaces, offering a glimpse into daily life in this architectural wonderland. It’s a place where the past is not just remembered; it’s experienced.


  • What makes Asmara’s architecture unique?

    Asmara’s architecture is a blend of Italian Modernist, Futurist, and Art Deco styles, alongside traditional Eritrean designs. This mix creates a unique urban landscape that reflects the city’s multicultural history.

  • Can visitors tour Asmara’s historic buildings?

    Yes, many of Asmara’s historic buildings are open to the public. Guided tours offer insights into the city’s architectural heritage and the stories behind these remarkable structures.

  • How is Asmara’s architecture being preserved?

    Since its UNESCO World Heritage designation, preservation efforts have increased. There are regulations in place to protect historic buildings, and restoration projects are ongoing to maintain their original splendor.


Asmara’s architecture is a testament to the city’s historical journey from an Italian colony to a modern African capital. Its buildings are more than mere structures; they are the keepers of stories, standing as silent witnesses to the passage of time. From the Futurist Fiat Tagliero Building to the Art Deco Cinema Impero, each edifice is a chapter in Asmara’s ongoing narrative. The city’s commitment to preserving its architectural heritage while embracing progress ensures that Asmara will continue to captivate visitors and residents alike. For those of us who have walked its streets and touched its walls, Asmara is not just a city; it’s a living museum where every corner holds a new discovery.

Asmara’s architecture is a rich tapestry woven from various historical threads, each as vibrant and intriguing as the last. It’s a city that has mastered the art of blending the old with the new, creating an urban landscape that is both timeless and dynamic. Whether you’re an architecture buff, a history enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates beauty, Asmara’s buildings are sure to leave a lasting impression.

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