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Africa - Reviving Asmara

Sunday 19 June 2005 21:30-22:15 (Radio 3)

In the 1930s, Mussolini's imperial plans for Africa led to a massive rebuilding project in Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea. Money was no object - and talented young Italian architects transformed the place beyond recognition, in a Modernist style. Sited on a high plateau above the clouds, Asmara became as full of treasures as El Dorado.

Some of these designs used cutting-edge technology: a cinema with a retractable roof, the world's longest cable-car route and more traffic lights than Rome had at the time. Others were simply beautiful: curved facades, art deco awnings and plastered porticos. Asmara was going to be an architectural showcase for Mussolini's Fascist regime: a sophisticated modern city in the heart of Africa. The Italians intended to stay forever - but history had other ideas.

Today, Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Having struggled to free itself from Italian, British and then Ethiopian oppression - it finds itself in need of vital economic development, but has few natural resources. However, despite all the years of fighting, Asmara has miraculously survived intact. Jonathan Glancey, architecture editor of The Guardian, travels to Asmara to see what is being done to preserve this national treasure.

Duration:

45 minutes




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