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Photo Essay: Art Deco And Art Nouveau In Asmara, Eritrea

Karen Elowitt | AFK Travel   in  ·
September 10, 2015


An Italian colony since 1890, Asmara was the most modern and fastest-growing city in Africa back in the 1930s. Immigrant residents put their stamp on the city in the form of the avant-garde architecture that was popular in Europe at the time. As a result, the town (now the capital of Eritrea) has a frozen-in-time quality to it: though the Italians have long since gone, they left behind Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings that rival any found elsewhere in the world, from New Zealand to Israel.


Fiat Tagliero building (1938)

Perhaps the most famous building in Asmara, the structure was very innovative for its time. It was meant to resemble an airplane with 30m-long concrete “wings.” Originally used as a petrol station and garage, it was designed by Giuseppe Pettazzi and has been fully restored.

Cinema Impero

Cinema Impero (1937)

Designed by Mario Messina, the cinema’s three massive windows combine strong vertical and horizontal elements with 45 porthole lamps. The lobby, which is not depicted here, features original marble, chrome and glass fixtures. The cavernous auditorium seats 1800 people and is decorated with motifs such as lions, nyalas and palm trees, which are typical of Art Deco style.


Governor’s Palace (1930s)

This building, which is currently the city hall, was built during the 1930s in typical “Littorio” Fascist style, with a central tower at the entrance that was once adorned with the word “Fasci.”


Central Pharmacy (date unknown)


Opera House (1920)

The opera house on Harnet Avenue features a curvilinear Art Nouveau ceiling painted by Saviero Fresa.


Cinema Odeon (1937)

Though it looks boxy and plain on the outside, on the inside the Cinema Odeon has a glittery bar, beveled mirrors, black terrazzo and Art Deco strip lights.


World Bank building (date unknown)

Once a private villa, this outstanding example of Art Deco architecture now houses the offices of the World Bank.


Apartment block (date unknown)


Cinema Roma (1937)

This cinema does not carry the signature Art Deco lettering in its marquee, but the marble frontage is unique among buildings in the city.


Bar Zilli (1939)

From the front this building intentionally resembles a radio, while the sides reveal five porthole windows. Not visible in this photo is the heart-shaped antenna on the roof, which was added decades later.


Adulis restaurant

Check out the curvy Art Nouveau lamps in front of the building.

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