Eritrea's 'city of dreams' given UNESCO her­itage list­ing

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

The peo­ple of Eritrea have long said their cap­i­tal As­mara is like no other city in Africa, and on Satur­day the UN agreed, des­ig­nat­ing it a World Her­itage site. The procla­ma­tion ends a long-run­ning quest by Eritrean author­i­ties to have the city's unique ar­chi­tec­ture, which in­cludes an art-deco bowl­ing al­ley with coloured glass win­dows and a petrol sta­tion built to re­sem­ble a soar­ing aero­plane, rec­og­nized by the UN cul­tural body, UNESCO.

It's also a rare ex­am­ple of pos­i­tive world recog­ni­tion for the Horn of Africa na­tion that is a ma­jor source of mi­grants flee­ing across the Mediter­ranean to Europe due to the coun­try's re­pres­sive poli­cies. "The city's recog­ni­tion as a her­itage site of out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value fills us with tremen­dous pride and joy, but also with a pro­found sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity and duty," said Hanna Si­mon, Eritrea's per­ma­nent del­e­gate to UNESCO. The de­ci­sion was taken at a meet­ing of the World Her­itage Com­mit­tee in the Pol­ish city of Krakow. A for­mer Ital­ian colony, most of the fu­tur­is­tic de­signs of the Eritrean cap­i­tal date back to the rule of fas­cist dic­ta­tor Ben­ito Mus­solini from 1936 to 1941.

Ar­chi­tects whose de­signs were un­wel­come in conservative Euro­pean cities found a place in As­mara at a time when about half of the city's pop­u­la­tion was Ital­ian and the city was known as 'Pic­cola Roma', or "Lit­tle Rome". While the mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture of other Eritrean cities was de­stroyed dur­ing a decades-long war of lib­er­a­tion from Ethiopia, As­mara's sur­vived and was de­clared a na­tional mon­u­ment by the gov­ern­ment in 2001, which refers to it as Africa's "City of Dream" (sic). But ef­forts to re­store the mar­ble fa­cades and Ro­man-style pil­lars of the city's the­atres and cin­e­mas have been ham­pered by a short­age of money and lo­cal ex­per­tise, city author­i­ties say.

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