Past Cities

Asmara, Central, Eritrea

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Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, is a fascinating place with a rich history that reflects its unique political environment and geographic setting.

Asmara is located in the Central Region of Eritrea, situated at an elevation of around 2,325 meters (7,628 feet) above sea level. The city's name is derived from the Tigrinya word "Asmera," which means "they made them unite." This name carries historical significance, as Asmara has long been a hub of cultural and ethnic diversity in the region.

Over the years, the population of Asmara has grown significantly. In the early 20th century, it had a population of around 5,000, but by 1940, it had surpassed 35,000 inhabitants. Today, it is estimated that Asmara is home to more than 800,000 people. This growth can be attributed to various factors, including the city's strategic location, economic opportunities, and political developments.

The history of Asmara is closely intertwined with Eritrea's struggle for independence and its colonial past. In the late 19th century, Asmara was under the rule of the Kingdom of Italy, which had established a colony known as Italian Eritrea. The Italians heavily influenced the city's architecture and urban planning, leaving behind an impressive legacy of Art Deco and Modernist buildings.

During the colonial period, Asmara became a center of administration, commerce, and education. The Italians invested in infrastructure, building roads, schools, hospitals, and a railway connecting Asmara to the port city of Massawa. This modernization effort attracted people from various backgrounds, including Italians, Eritreans, and other Africans, resulting in a vibrant and cosmopolitan city.

In 1941, British and Commonwealth forces liberated Eritrea from Italian rule during World War II. However, the victory did not bring immediate independence for Eritrea. Instead, the United Nations placed the country under a trusteeship administered by the British until 1952. During this period, Asmara continued to grow and develop, but political tensions were mounting.

In 1952, the UN dissolved the trusteeship and passed a resolution that federated Eritrea with Ethiopia. This decision was met with resistance from Eritreans who aspired for independence. The political situation in Asmara became increasingly volatile, leading to protests and demonstrations against Ethiopian rule.

In 1961, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was formed, marking the beginning of armed resistance against Ethiopian domination. Asmara, being the capital and cultural center, became a hotbed of anti-colonial activities. The city witnessed numerous clashes between Eritrean liberation fighters and Ethiopian forces.

The armed struggle for independence lasted for three decades, during which Asmara played a crucial role as a base for the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). Despite the hardships and challenges faced by the city and its people, Asmara remained resilient. The population endured bombings and attacks, but also displayed remarkable solidarity and determination.

Finally, in 1991, the EPLF succeeded in driving Ethiopian forces out of Eritrea. Asmara, now the capital of an independent nation, faced the enormous task of rebuilding and transitioning from a war-torn city to a thriving capital. The process of reconstruction and nation-building began, and Asmara's population started to grow once again.