Asmara (Tigrinya: ኣስመራ) known locally as Asmera (meaning "They
[feminine plural] made them unite" in Tigrinya), is the capital city
and largest settlement in Eritrea. Home to a population of just over
800,000 inhabitants, it sits at an elevation of 2,325 metres
(7,628 ft), the sixth highest capital in the world by altitude.
The city is located at the tip of an escarpment that is both the
northwestern edge of the
Eritrean highlands and the Great Rift Valley
in neighbouring Ethiopia. In 2017, the city was declared as a UNESCO
World Heritage Site.
Asmara is situated in Eritrea's central Maekel Region. It is known for
its well-preserved colonial Italian modernist architecture. The
city is divided into thirteen districts or administrative areas:
Acria, Abbashaul, Edaga Hamus, Arbaete Asmara, Mai Temenai, Paradizo,
Sembel, Godaif, Maekel Ketema or Downtown, Tiravolo, Gejeret,
Tsetserat and Gheza Banda.
1.1 Italian occupation
1.2 Federation with Ethiopia
7.1 Universities and colleges
7.2 Primary and secondary schools
7.2.1 International schools
10 Further reading
11 External links
See also: Timeline of Asmara
Originally, according to Eritrean Tigrinya oral traditional history,
there were four clans living in the
Asmara area on the Kebessa
Plateau: the Gheza Gurtom, the Gheza Shelele, the Gheza Serenser and
Gheza Asmae. These towns were frequently attacked by clans from the
low land and from the rulers of "seger mereb melash" (which now is a
Tigray region in Ethiopia), until the women of each clan decided that
to defeat their common enemy and preserve peace the four clans must
unite. The men accepted, hence the name "Arbate Asmera". Arbate Asmara
literally means, in the Tigrinya language, "the four (feminine plural)
made them unite". Eventually Arbate was dropped and it has been
Asmara which means "they [feminine, thus referring to the
women] made them unite". There is still a district called Arbaete
Asmara in the Administrations of Asmara. It is now called the
Italianized version of the word Asmara. The westernized version of the
name is used by a majority of non-Eritreans, while the multilingual
Eritrea and neighboring peoples remain loyal to the
original pronunciation, Asmera.
The missionary Remedius Prutky passed through
Asmara in 1751, and
described in his memoirs that a church built there by
130 years before was still intact.
Asmara in 1929
Asmara started to grow quickly when it was occupied by Italy in 1889.
Ferdinando Martini made it the capital city of Italian
Eritrea in 1897, in preference to the Red Sea port of Massawa. In the
early 20th century, the
Eritrean Railway was built to the coast,
passing through the town of Ghinda, under the direction of Carlo
Cavanna. In both 1913 and 1915 the city suffered only slight damage in
A large Italian community developed. According to the 1939 census,
Asmara had a population of 98,000, of which 53,000 were Italian. Only
75,000 lived in all of Eritrea, making the capital city by far their
largest centre. (Compare this to the Italian colonization of Libya,
where the settler population, albeit larger, was more dispersed.)
Fiat Tagliero station
The capital acquired an Italian architectural look. Europeans used
Asmara "to experiment with radical new designs". By the late 1930s,
Asmara was called Piccola Roma (Little Rome). Nowadays many
buildings are of Italian origin, and shops still have Italian names
(e.g., Bar Vittoria, Pasticceria moderna, Casa del formaggio, and
The Kingdom of Italy invested in the industrial development of Asmara
(and surrounding areas of
Eritrea),[better source needed] but the beginning of
World War II stopped this.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site in July 2017, saying “It is an
exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of
the 20th century and its application in an African context”.
Federation with Ethiopia
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 1,000 kilometres
(620 miles) to the south. The national language of the city was
therefore replaced from
Tigrinya language to the Ethiopian Amharic
language. In 1961, Emperor
Haile Selassie I
Haile Selassie I ended the "federal"
arrangement and declared the territory to be the 14th province of the
Ethiopian Empire. Ethiopia's biggest ally was the United States.
The city was home to the US Army's
Kagnew Station installation from
1943 until 1977. The
Eritrean War of Independence
Eritrean War of Independence began in 1961 and
ended in 1991, resulting in the independence of Eritrea.
left relatively undamaged throughout the war, as were the majority of
highland regions. After independence,
Asmara again became the capital
Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Asmara
Church and Mosque
Four big landmarks of the city are the Church of Our Lady of the
Rosary and the Kidane Mehret Cathedral of the Catholic faith, the Enda
Mariam Cathedral of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Al
Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque of the Islamic faith. Christians and
Muslims have lived peacefully together in
Asmara for centuries. The
religious majority in
Asmara are Orthodox Christians. The population
in the Central Region is 94 percent Christian (almost 89 percent
Orthodox, 4 percent Roman Catholic, and more than 1 percent
Protestant) and 5 percent Muslim. The towns and villages
surrounding the city in the highlands are predominantly Christian
(most places being all Christian). Further, towards the lowlands, a
few Muslim towns and villages are found. The
Asmara Synagogue is the
last piece of physical evidence of the Jewish community that once
resided in Eritrea.
Asmara also has the St George Greek Orthodox
Asmara on Selam St.
A street in Asmara
The city lies at an elevation of 2,325 metres (7,628 feet) above sea
level. It lies on north-south trending highlands known as the Eritrean
Highlands, an extension of the Ethiopian Highlands. The temperate
central portion, where
Asmara lies, is situated on a rocky highland
plateau, which separates the western lowlands from the eastern coastal
plains. The lands that surround
Asmara are very fertile, especially
those to the south towards the
Debub Region of Eritrea. The highlands
Asmara is located in fall away to reveal the eastern lowlands,
characterized by the searing heat and humidity of the Eritrean salt
pans, lapped by the Red Sea. To the west of the plateau stretches a
vast semi-arid hilly terrain continuing all the way towards the border
Sudan through the Gash-Barka Region.
Asmara features a somewhat rare version of a steppe climate, with
warm, but not hot summers and mild winters. Asmara's climate can also
be considered arid to semi-arid. Due to its 2,325-metre
(7,630 ft) altitude, temperatures are relatively mild for a city
located not particularly far from deserts. This climate is
characteristic of rainy, wet seasons and dry seasons. Asmara
averages about 500 millimetres (20 in) of precipitation annually.
Frost, however, is extremely rare in the city. The long rainy season
of the year extends from June until September. The short rainy season
occurs from March until April. On average, about 60% of Asmara’s
annual precipitation is seen during the months of July and August. In
contrast, December to February are typically Asmara’s driest months,
where on average only 8 millimetres (0.31 in) of precipitation
falls in the three months combined. Due to variable rainfall,
Asmara’s climate is also characterized by drought. Several
prolonged droughts in this region have occurred beginning in the 1960s
and have recurred each decade since then. During periods of
drought, temperatures are high and little rainfall occurs. As
temperatures of a region increase, the rate of evaporation of water
from the soil also increases. These combined processes result in the
desertification of the soil. In order to obtain nutrient rich and
moist soil for farming purposes, populations rely on deforestation to
make use of the underlying ground. The most serious environmental
Asmara faces are deforestation and desertification. Other
Asmara faces are soil erosion and overgrazing. All of these
environmental issues produce soil degradation.
Climate data for
Asmara (1961–1990, extremes 1903–2012)
Record high °C (°F)
Average high °C (°F)
Daily mean °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Record low °C (°F)
Average rainfall mm (inches)
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm)
Average relative humidity (%)
Mean monthly sunshine hours
Mean daily sunshine hours
Source #1: NOAA
Source #2: Meteo Climat (record highs and lows)
Asmara National Museum
The city is home to the
Eritrean National Museum
Eritrean National Museum and is known for its
early 20th-century buildings, including the
Art Deco Cinema Impero
(opened in 1937 and considered by the experts one of the world's
finest examples of Art Déco style building), Cubist Africa
Pension, eclectic Orthodox Cathedral and former Opera House, the
futurist Fiat Tagliero Building, the neo-Romanesque Church of Our Lady
of the Rosary, Asmara, and the neoclassical Governor's Palace. The
city is adorned by Italian colonial villas and mansions, one prominent
example being the World Bank Building. Most of central
built between 1935 and 1941, so the
Italians effectively managed to
build almost an entire city in just six years. At this time, the
Benito Mussolini had great plans for a second
Roman Empire in
Africa. War cut this short, but his injection of funds created the
Asmara of today, which supposedly was to be a symbol that Fascism
worked and is an ideal system of government.
The city shows off most early 20th-century architectural styles. Some
buildings are neo-Romanesque, such as the Church of Our Lady of the
Rosary, some villas are built in a late Victorian style. Art Deco
influences are found throughout the city; essentially
Asmara was then
Dubai is now. Architects were restricted by
nothing more than the bounds of their imaginations and were given the
funds to create masterpieces which we can see today.
Cubism can be found on the
Africa Pension Building, and on
a small collection of buildings. The
Fiat Tagliero Building
Fiat Tagliero Building shows
almost the height of futurism, just as it was coming into big fashion
in Italy. In recent times, some buildings have been functionally built
which sometimes can spoil the atmosphere of some cities, but they fit
Asmara as it is such a modern city.
Modern building in
Asmara overlooking a war memorial.
Asmara is also the see of the archbishop of the Eritrean Orthodox
Tewahedo Church, which became autocephalous in 1993. The archbishop
was elevated in 1998 to the rank of
Patriarchate of Eritrea, on a par
with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Asmara was known to be an exceptionally modern city, not only because
of its architecture, but
Asmara also had more traffic lights than Rome
did when the city was being built. The city incorporates many
features of a planned city. Indeed,
Asmara was an early example of an
ideal modern city created by architects, an idea
which was introduced into many cities across the world, such as
Brasilia, but which was not altogether popular. Features include
designated city zoning and planning, wide treed boulevards, political
areas and districts and space and scope for development.
not built for the Eritreans however; the
Italians built it primarily
for themselves. One unfortunate aspect of the city's planning was
separate areas designated for
Italians and Eritreans, each
Asmara Intercontinental Hotel.
The city has more than 400 examples of Italian-style architecture,
wide streets, Piazzas and coffee bars. While the boulevards are lined
with palms and local shiba'kha trees, there are numerable Pizzerias
and coffee bars, serving cappucinos and lattes, as well as ice cream
parlours and restaurants with Italian Eritrean cuisine.
Asmara dress in a uniquely Eritrean style.
Asmara is also
highly praised for its peaceful, crime-free environment. It is one
of the cleanest cities on the continent.
The city hosts the We Are the Future center, a child care center
giving children a chance to live their childhoods and develop a sense
of hope. The center is managed under the direction of the mayor’s
office, and the international
Glocal Forum serves as the
fundraiser and program planner and coordinator for the WAF child
center in each city. Each WAF city is linked to several peer cities
and public and private partners to create a unique international
Asmara was listed as a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site in July 2017,
becoming the first modernist city anywhere to be listed in its
The Historic Center of
Asmara was placed on the World Monuments Fund's
2006 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. The listing was designed
to bring more attention to the city to save the center from decay and
redevelopment and to promote restoration.
Following CARP (a World Bank initiative on Cultural Heritage), the
European Union Delegation in
Asmara has engaged into a Heritage
Project pertaining to building's restoration and archive management.
Launched in 2010 the EU/
Eritrea Cultural Project was expected to be
completed in 2014 (Pierre Couté - Edward Denison, Project Design
As the capital city and largest settlement of Eritrea, most Eritrean
businesses have their headquarters in Asmara. The city was once a
During the colonial period,
Asmara was an administrative and
commercial center of Italian East Africa. When the British entered the
country in 1941, many businesses were closed down or relocated outside
of the city. This trend continued under Ethiopian occupation.
Nasair and the
Eritrean Telecommunications Corporation are
headquartered in the city. In addition, country's national
Eri-TV has many studios located in various areas in
The city of
Asmara is a center for agricultural products and tanning
hides. The primary industrial products of
Asmara are: textiles,
clothing, footwear, processed meat, beer, soft drinks, and
Taxis that run in the city of
Asmara start at 07:00 and end at 21:00,
and can get very crowded at peak times. The fare for a shared taxi is
5–10 Nakfa per seat. A contracted taxi can charge between 20 and 300
Nakfa so the price should be negotiated before entering the taxi.
Contracted taxis also run outside
Asmara to various other cities,
towns and villages including; Massawa, Keren, Mendefera, Dekemhare,
Ghinda and Nefasit. Long distance buses in
Eritrea are not
crowded because it is illegal for passengers to stand in the aisle.
There are organized breakfast and/or lunch stops on longer trips. When
traveling to remote places, like Assab, Nakfa,
Tesseney or Senafe,
reservations should be made for the return trip in advance, to prevent
being stranded.
There is a railway station in
Asmara that connects the city with
Massawa: the Eritrean Railway, built by the
Italians between 1887 and
1932, has been recently restructured. Indeed, the
line has now been restored from
Massawa all the way through to Asmara,
but as of 2006[update] no scheduled services traverse the whole length
of the line. The area is served by
Asmara International Airport
Asmara International Airport is the only airport in Asmara. The
airport is very limited in capacity and land extent. The short length
of the runways inhibits large aircraft from flying to the Asmara
airport, and instead these planes must land at
Airport, located in the city of Massawa.
After Eritrean independence, the roads of
Asmara underwent extensive
construction projects. Old roads were renovated and new highways were
also built. There are only five primary roads out of Asmara, giving it
its status as one of Africa’s most isolated capitals.
Ministry of Education in Asmara
Asmara is home to the majority of colleges and universities. The city
has always been a national centre of education, and is home to many
elementary and high schools. Until the recent opening of universities
Mai Nefhi and Sawa, it was the seat of the only university in the
country, the University of Asmara. During the period of Ethiopian
Federation and annexation, the college was also linked with what was
then the nation's largest tertiary institution, Addis Ababa
University. Many campuses have been opening up across the country
since independence, mainly for medicine and engineering.
University coursework in
Eritrea is, for the most part, four years of
academic study followed by one year of university national service in
a relevant Eritrean Ministry. Once these five years are completed,
students are then awarded their degree.
So far, this strategy has been rather successful in adding to the
country’s human capital. Despite challenges in trying to equally
balance human resources, most Eritreans want their career to help
further their country’s success. In other words, most accept their
university assignment as their social obligation to serve a bigger
Universities and colleges
University of Asmara
Eritrea Institute of Technology
Asmara Institute of Religious Studies
Primary and secondary schools
Asmara International Community School – Anglophone international
Italian School of Asmara – Italian primary school with a Montessori
Liceo Sperimentale "G. Marconi" – Italian international senior high
Istituto Italiano Statale Comprensivo (IT) – Italian international
elementary and junior high school
Main article: Districts of Asmara
Asmara is divided into 13 districts or administrative areas. These
districts are subdivided into North, North-West, North-East,
South-East, South-West, East, West and Central areas. The thirteen
districts (or Neous Zobas) are:
Edaga Hamus District
Mai Temenai District
Maakel Ketema District
Gheza Banda District
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Asmara (in Italian) p. 64-66
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analyzing forest and woodland cover change in
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Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved January 13, 2015.
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See also: Bibliography of the history of Asmara
Peter Volgger and Stefan Graf: "Architecture in Asmara. Colonial
Origin and Postcolonial Experiences", DOM publishers, Berlin
Stefan Boness: "
Asmara – Africa´s Jewel of Modernity". Jovis
Verlag, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-86859-435-5 (photo book; German,
Stefan Boness: "
Asmara – The Frozen City". Jovis Verlag, Berlin
2006. 96 pages. ISBN 3-936314-61-6 (photo book; German, English)
Edward Denison, Guang Yu Ren, Naigzy Gebremedhin, and Guang Yu Ren,
Asmara: Africa's Secret Modernist City (2003) ISBN 1-85894-209-8
Gianluca Rossi, Renzo Martinelli inviato de “La Nazione”, 2009,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Asmara.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Asmara.
Eritrea Documentary Film about the city by filmmaker Caterina
History of Asmara
Asmara inscription in UNESCO
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