Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, has one of the largest collections of modernist architecture in the world, impressive features that bolster the application made on February 1 for it to be listed as a World Heritage site.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are natural and cultural legacies of “outstanding value to humanity” and these approximately 400 buildings and their legacy make Asmara a unique contender for the esteemed status. The fate of the application, submitted by the Asmara Heritage Project (AHP), will be known before July 2017 and, as the Asmara project already meets several of the ten criterion for heritage status, there are high hopes.
For centuries, Eritrea was influenced by the cultures and religions of different rulers, from the Egyptians and the Ottomans to the Europeans. These all left their traces on the culture and architecture of the country, but it was Italy’s occupation that had the strongest mark.
Asmara was under Italian occupation from 1889, but it was Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 that transformed the small town then into Africa’s most modern metropolis.
Asmara grew to become a capital city, with zoning, sanitation and modern drainage systems and buildings that followed the design principles and architectural styles indebted to European tendencies at the turn of the century.
Many buildings are in run-down condition requiring an overhaul and modernization of facilities including sanitation and electricity. An important step in this process will be the recognition of the Asmara architecture as a World Heritage by the UNESCO.
Through recognition there’s hope that the huge costs of renovation and preservation can be met if Asmara’s architecture can become the cornerstone of gainful tourism in Eritrea.
It is indeed our joy that this Eritrean capital city would become a UNESCO World Heritage site some time next year.