The Unexpected Modernism

written by Edward Denison


Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, may seem an unlikely location for a modernist masterpiece. Perched on a plateau 2,300m above sea level, Asmara was once Africa’s most modern metropolis. Today it is one of the continent’s most surprising and remarkable cities. Built mostly during the late 1930s by Italian colonists during the period of Fascism and effectively isolated by subsequent tensions and conflicts, this extraordinary city has been relatively concealed from the world, until now.


What makes Asmara so extraordinary and perhaps even unique is not only the combination of early modern urban planning and modernist architecture in a whole urban context, but also that these characteristics have survived entirely intact into the twenty-first century. No other modernist city in the world has so completely retained its integrity.