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Asmara Trips

  • Art Deco in Asmara / Ngaire Drew

Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara is set in the centre of the country on the eastern edge of the high plateau. Its name, ‘Forest of Flowers’, is indicative of its feel – it is as friendly and relaxed as any small town, with an easy-going pace of life. Prior to the Italian occupation from 1889, Asmara was a small village and the home of the Ras Alulua, the then governor of the region. Contemporary Asmara was built as the capital of the Italian colony of Eritrea during the period 1890-1940. It has a mixture of Italian and Eritrean architecture. By the time of independence, it had become the second largest city in Ethiopia.

There are surprisingly few signs that this city was at war for over 20 years in that, except for the obvious neglect of the buildings, there are few bullet scars or signs of bomb damage. However, Asmara was occupied by the Ethiopian Dergue and a legacy of this era is the prison at Mariam Gimbi where members of the Ethiopian army tortured EPLF sympathizers. 

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Asmara is a beautiful art deco city, captured in a 1930s architectural time warp, a walk around which will be rewarded with evidence of the city’s diverse heritage. The main market is a popular place to visit with its abundance of fruit, vegetables, spices and crafts and bustling atmosphere. During the Italian occupation of Asmara, the market area was the ‘native’ quarter of town. The main boulevard, Liberation Avenue, that runs east-west through the centre of Asmara, is a pleasant palm-lined street with a number of open-air cafés that reflect a style of life established during the Italian period. If you want to soak up the atmosphere of Asmara, then this is the place to find it – sampling the bars, cafés and patisseries along the avenue.  If you have the chance, make sure you take the steam train up the escarpment from the coast – fantastic views await as you climb up to over 2325m.


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