Asmara, Eritrea, Africa’s secret modernist city, is perched on the northwestern edge of a plateau 2,500 meters above sea level in the Horn of Africa. It is a spectacular city in a magnificent location, perched high above the clouds.
The Red Sea coast and the interior of the country are nearby, and the region enjoys a favourable environment that has supported the towns on this plateau for thousands of years.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when, following their occupation of Asmara in 1889, the Italians named the city the capital of their future East African Empire (also known as African Orientale Italiana).
1. History of Asmara Eritrea
A city with modernist architecture that is impressively intact today was built by successive generations of Italian colonial planners and architects using Eritrean labour, knowledge, materials, and skills. It feels rooted in an ancient past and history while yet feeling at home in its contemporary African surroundings.
Moreover, Asmara’s world-renowned early modernist urbanism design and planning, which represented these qualities, gained the city the honour of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, a first for Eritrea and a first for modernist heritage in Africa.
Its ability to preserve its cultural legacy, completeness as a city incorporates an urban form, and the seeming ease with which it has assimilated into Eritrean culture are just a few of the qualities that not only astound tourists but also pique their curiosity and elicit a lifelong fondness.
2. Top Attractions in the Capital City
Some of the best attractions in this place are mentioned below. You can check these out to have an idea of Asmara, Eritrea.
2.1 Opera House
The Opera House, one of Asmara’s most exquisite early 20th-century structures, was finished in 1920. During the resident cafe’s operating hours, you are welcome to take a look around. Alternatively, stay for a while and enjoy the ambience while sipping coffee or using the free Wi-Fi available there.
Although the city no longer has a permanent opera company, it is frequently possible to see an international football match projected into the stage’s backdrop on the weekends.
2.2 Roman Catholic Cathedral
The ornate, brick-walled Catholic cathedral, the Asmara area’s most recognizable landmark, is difficult to miss while strolling along Harnet Avenue in central Asmara. One of the best Lombard Romanesque cathedrals outside of Italy, it was dedicated in 1923.
2.3 Central Market
One of Asmara’s top attractions in the entire city is the enormous Central Market, which is located north of Harnet Avenue. The best time to go is early on Saturday when local producers from all across the area come in to offer their goods.
2.4 Tank Graveyard
The remains of military vehicles from all over the nation have been carried to this wide field in the years since intense conflict stopped, and they serve as both a memorial and a sombre reminder of the harm caused by decades of fighting.
You will need a permit from the tourist information centre to enter the area’s centre, where several local families have set up residences in shipping containers. Outside of this area, however, you are free to walk (and take pictures) at your leisure.
2.5 Steam Railway
Book a trip on the historic steam railway that octogenarian Eritrean railway engineers restored if you can travel with others. You can get a five-hour return journey halfway down the mountain for about $500.
2.6 Great Mosque
The Great Mosque is located next to the historic market at the centre of a sizable open plaza. This massive building, which was finished in 1938, mixes Islamic, classical, and rationalist designs.
Only the faithful are permitted inside, but you are invited to peek in through the door.
2.7 National Museum
Although Asmara’s museums are not as strong as its buildings, it is still worthwhile to visit the National Museum, which is located west of the former Ghidei (Governor’s) Palace.
Cell phones and cameras must be left with the front-desk employee. The exhibition space is made up of a variety of archaeological finds, taxidermy, medieval artefacts, ethnography exhibitions, and a small collection of national artwork, with around half of it now being used.
Eritrea is well known for its hot cuisine that is eaten with injera, a sour pancake-like bread. Coffee is always enjoyable, whether it is ceremoniously prepared slowly or quickly with an espresso shot.
Fresh fruit juices are wonderful and are frequently paired with ice cream. The city of Asmara boasts broad streets, eateries, piazzas (town squares), bars, and cafes, and many of the boulevards are palm tree-lined.
The food and culinary traditions that Italy heavily influences were first introduced during Italian Eritrea. Many eateries, cafes, gelato shops, and restaurants serving Italian Eritrean cuisine serve excellent espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes.
At a height of 2,325 meters above sea level, the city of Asmara is located. It is located in the Eritrean Highlands, an extension of the Ethiopian Highlands, which have a north-south direction. Asmara is located in the temperate centre, on the rocky highland plateau that divides the western lowlands from the eastern coastal plains.
Particularly those to the south, near Eritrea’s Debub District, the grounds that surround the Asmara area are particularly fertile. Asmara’s location in the highlands gives way to the Red Sea-lapping eastern lowlands, distinguished by the Eritrean salt pans’ searing heat and humidity.
Due to its authentically Italian touches in architecture and the broad streets, piazzas, and coffee shops, the city has been referred to as New Rome or Italy’s African City. Most styles of early 20th-century architecture can be seen in the city.
Several structures in the city have Art Deco influences, including neo-Romanesque structures like the Roman Catholic Cathedral and some late Victorian mansions.
Cubist elements, including the Africa Pension Building, can be seen on several buildings. The Fiat Tagliero Building exhibits modern architecture at its most advanced stage as it became popular in Italy.
Many elements of a planned city are present throughout the city. Characteristics include clearly defined city planning and zoning, broad boulevards lined with trees, political districts and zones, and room and potential for development. The distinct, disproportionately-sized zones set aside for Italians and Eritreans in the city were a regrettable part of its layout.
6. Places to Stay
If you are here and looking for the best places to stay, do not worry; we have you covered. Some of the best places to stay in Asmara, Eritrea, are mentioned here.
6.1 Africa Pension
Small and characterful! The best in its price category, situated close to the city centre in a lovely garden with spacious rooms but communal bathrooms. It once served as the mayor’s home, and his historic balcony provides the city’s best views.
6.2 Crystal Hotel
The Crystal Hotel is one of Asmara’s most well-liked hotels and consistently ranks first on the list for its excellent location, lovely staff, and friendly service.
Ensuite rooms have a TV, WiFi, consistent electricity, and hot water. It also has a good restaurant.
6.3 Albergo Italia
Asmara’s oldest hotel was built in 1899. In the early 2000s, Albergo Italia underwent substantial and costly repairs. Among the amenities and services are a bar, a restaurant, and six different accommodation classes, from basic rooms to opulent suites.
Some of the most important information that might come in handy while you are at this place is mentioned here.
7.1 International Dialling Code
+291 is the dialling code internationally in Asmara.
Nakfa (ERN), is now trading at about ERN20 per UK£. Since there are no ATMs and banks are incredibly cumbersome, bring cash to exchange at hotels.
7.3 Reach Asmara, Eritrean Capital
No nonstop flights connect the UK with Asmara. Fly Dubai, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, and Egyptian Airlines all fly via Addis Ababa, Dubai, Istanbul, and Cairo, respectively.
The distance between Asmara Airport and the city centre is 7 kilometres, and a cab ride takes around 20 minutes; the cost is ERN400 ($19).
Walking is the greatest way to get to Asmara. The second most popular activity in the country, cycling, is the ideal way to travel further.
Renting a bike is simple. Taxis are similarly simple to locate and inexpensive if you stick to their recommended routes, but they might be pricey for personal “contract” use.
Festival Eritrea in August and Independence Day on May 24 are two significant cultural events. The Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim populations all celebrate a variety of holidays throughout the year, thanks to Eritrea’s religious diversity.
Asmara’s main industrial products include textiles, apparel, footwear, processed meat, beer, soft beverages, and ceramics. The city serves as a market for agricultural goods and a hub for the tanning of hides. 80 per cent of the population works in agriculture, which accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s GDP but employs most of its people.
Cotton, fruits, and vegetables, hides, and meat are among the agricultural products exported, but because farmers rely mostly on rain-fed agriculture, expansion in this and other industries is constrained.
From Asmara, five main highways converge. After independence, significant new highway construction and renovation took place. Asmara’s airport, Asmara International Airport, has a 1.5-mile altitude, a small terminal, and significant capacity limitations.
As a result, large jet aircraft (like an A380, MD-11, or 747) cannot land at the airport and must instead land at Massawa International Airport in the coastal city of Massawa on the coast of Eritrea. Asmara and Massawa are connected by the Eritrean Railway.
Asmara, Eritrea, is a lovely city with a Mediterranean feel at first appearance, with a pace and cafe culture reminiscent of southern Italy. Nevertheless, if you go further, there is much more.
It is very much its place, a distinct city full of character, charm, and surprises. Home to a rich mixture of cultures, one that blends the relatively brief effect of the Italian occupation with age-old religious practices, traditions, and customs.