Asmara (English) (Tigrigna: ኣስመራ Asmera, formerly known as Asmera, or in Arabic: أسمرة Asmara, meaning "Made them United" in Tigrigna) is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, home to a population of around 579,000 people. At an elevation of 2,325 meters (7,628 ft), Asmara is on the edge of an escarpment that is both the northwestern edge of the Great Rift Valley and of the Eritrean highlands. Textiles and clothing, processed meat, beer, shoes, and ceramics are the major industrial products.
The city is home to the Eritrean National Museum and is known for its early twentieth century buildings, including the Art Deco Cinema Impero, Cubist Africa Pension, eclectic Orthodox Cathedral and former Opera House, the futurist Fiat Tagliero Building, neo-Romanesque Roman Catholic Cathedral, 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 Asmara was built between 1935 and 1941, so effectively the Italians managed to build almost an entire city, in just six short years. At this time, the dictator 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 Roman Catholic Cathedral, some villas are built in a late Victorian style. Art Deco influences are found throughout the city; essentially Asmara was then what 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. Essences of Cubism can be found on the Africa Pension Building, and on a small collection of buildings. The 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 into Asmara as it is such a modern city.
Asmara is also home to the University of Asmara and a nineteenth century fort, Forte Baldissera. It is served by Asmara International Airport, and is connected to the port of Massawa by the Eritrean Railway.
Asmara is also the see of the archbishop of the Eritrean Orthodox 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. Asmara was 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 disproportionately sized.
The city has been regarded as "New Rome" or "Italy's African City" due to its quintessential Italian touch, not only for the architecture, but also for the wide streets, piazzas and coffee bars. While the boulevards are lined with palms and indigenous shiba'kha trees, there are numerable pizzerias and coffee bars, serving cappucinos and lattes, as well as ice cream parlours. The people in Asmara dress in a unique, yet African style. Asmara is also highly praised for its peaceful, crime-free environment. It is one of the cleanest cities of Africa.
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 NGO 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 coalition. Launched in 2004, the program is the result of a strategic partnership between the Glocal Forum, the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation and Mr. Hani Masri, with the support of the World Bank, UN agencies and major companies.
Asmara has been proposed as a possible new addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, under the direction of the Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project, for its outstanding examples of 20th century architecture and town planning. Many of these historic buildings are not currently being taken care of and there is a serious risk that this heritage could be lost.
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.