Asmara is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea.
The Eritrean capital of Asmara is a vibrant mix of Italian and African architecture and culture. Founded in the twelfth century by a union of villages trying to protect themselves from bandits, Asmara has grown to become a bustling city of over half a million people.
Over its history, the city has endured the rule of various empires and countries, including the Italian Empire from the late 19th century, the British from after World War II and Ethiopia from 1950. After a long and bloody war with Ethiopia, Asmara was finally liberated in 1991 and became the capital of a country which had not had self-rule for two centuries.
Today, it is difficult to walk down a street in downtown Asmara and not see an old Italian building. In the early 1930s, Mussolini, the Italian dictator, injected huge amounts of funds into the city with the goal of making it the centre of a second Roman Empire that spanned Africa. Architects were only limited by their imagination, and practically the entire city centre was rebuilt. Not only were cathedrals built in ancient-Romanesque style, but also numerous offices influenced by the architectural movements of cubism and futurism.
|POPULATION :||City: 649,000|
|TIME ZONE :||EAT (UTC+3)|
|LANGUAGE :||Tigrinya. Arabic, Italian and English|
|RELIGION :||Eritrean Orthodox 60%, Catholic 21%, Sunni Islam 19%|
|AREA :||630 km2 (240 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||7,628 ft (2,325 m)|
|COORDINATES :||15°20′N 38°56′E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 51.22% |
• Female: 48.78%
|ETHNIC :||Tigrinya (77%), Tigre (15%), Others (Annobon, Mdowe) 8%|
|AREA CODE :||1|
|POSTAL CODE :|
|DIALING CODE :||+291 1|
Asmara's main attraction is its colonial Italian architecture. The palm-lined main street "Independence Avenue" is colloquially referred to as "Kombishtato" (a creol of the neighbourhood's original name: Campo di Citta). It is full of cafés, bars, shops and old cinemas, and it makes for a nice mile long stroll between the north end of this avenue where the "half" stadium is (you'll know when you see half a bleacher) and the south end facing the Nyala Hotel, the city's tallest building.
Asmara's colourful and bustling marketplace lies behind the cathedral on the road to its right (as seen when standing in front of the cathedral's main entrance on Independence Avenue). It's a great place to learn how to haggle and buy some souvenirs.
From the café on the top floor of the Nyala Hotel, one has a great view of the city while enjoying a nice well-chilled beer. The beer is exceptionally good in Asmara, aptly called "Asmara Beer". Behind the hotel on a quieter street is the National Museum, with an impressive collection spanning the six millennia of the land's civilization.
Although it would be easy to think of Asmara, the Eritrean capital, solely as an Italian built colonial city, its origins actually reach back to between 800 BC and 400 BC. The Tigrinya and Tigre people live around there.
Asmara, which was part of the kingdom of Medri Bahri (later Republic of Hamassien), would briefly come under the occupation of the British-backed and -supported Egyptians. Later Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia briefly occupied the area and gave his trusted Ras Alula the title of governor of Medri Bahri. Alula moved the capital of the province to Asmara, which then had about 150 inhabitants.
Asmara acquired some importance as a result of Alula's choice for the capital of his province, but started to grow in a huge way when it was occupied by Italy in 1889 and was made the capital city of Italian Eritrea in preference to Massawa by Governor Martini in 1897.
In the early 20th century, a railway line 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 large earthquakes. In the late 1930s the Italians changed the face of the town, with a new structure and new buildings: Asmara was called Piccola Roma (Little Rome).
Many industrial investments were made by Italy in Asmara (and surrounding areas of Eritrea), but the beginning of World War II stopped the blossoming industrialization of the area. Italy was defeated in 1941, and the British administered the city and the rest of the country from 1941 to 1952. During this time, many industries were shipped out of the city to other, long-standing British colonies such as India and Kenya.
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 1000 kilometers 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 ended the "federal" arrangement and declared the territory to be the 14th province of the Ethiopian Empire. Ethiopia's biggest ally was the USA. The city was home to the US Army's Kagnew Station installation from 1943 until 1977. The Eritrean War of Independence began in 1961 and ended in 1991, resulting in the independence of Eritrea. Asmara was left relatively undamaged throughout the war, as were the majority of highland regions. After independence, Asmara, again became the capital of Eritrea.
Asmara features a somewhat rare version of a steppe climate, with warm, but not hot summers and mild winters.
Due to its 2,325 metres (7,630 ft) altitude, temperatures are relatively mild for a city located not particularly far from deserts.
July and August comprise Asmara's short wet season. In fact, on average, about 60% of Asmara’s annual precipitation is seen during these two months.
The city lies at an elevation of 2,325 metres 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 that Asmara is located in fall away to reveal the eastern lowlands, characterised 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 with Sudan through the Gash-Barka Region.
As the capital city and largest settlement of Eritrea, most Eritrean businesses have their headquarters in Asmara. The city was once a factory town.
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.
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.