The faded elegance of ASMARA.

Author:Grey, Marianne
Position:TRAVEL: ERITREA - Travel narrative

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is one of those African Cities that seem to nave men of re map as so little about it escapes to the outside world and very few people travel mere. But Marianne Grey, lured by tales of splendid Art Deco architecture, made the trip.

Eritrea is a difficult country to write about. There's so much good about it but also so much bad. Its history is tangled and its one-party state is secretive. When I went to get a tourist visa from the embassy in London, they asked me why I wanted to go. Why would a white lady of uncertain years want to go there alone?

I said I was going there to see the architecture. Many of the buildings are showcases for the Italian modernist movement in the 1930s when Mussolini's ambition was to establish a new Roman empire in Africa. To do this he sent his best architects to build a model city full of Art Deco and Futurist design and called it Piccola (small) Roma.

The embassy staff looked nonplussed but eventually gave me the visa.

I took a lot of planes to get there and was to have a really rewarding and happy time in Asmara, one of the most striking and unusual towns in the world, and one of the least known.

Eritrea is the sixth newest country in the world and the capital, Asmara, was recently named by Unesco as a world heritage site because of its extraordinary modernist architecture.

Not too many people go to Eritrea to visit. Bordered Dy Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Eritrea (population 5m+) occupies a strategic area in the Horn of Africa, with more than 1000km of coastline on the Red Sea.

It had a 30-year war with Ethiopia before it won its independence in 1993.

It is reportedly one of the worst countries in Africa for press freedom (only North Korea ranks lower) and human rights. It is second only to Niger for poverty and the GDP per capita was estimated at $740 recently.

Eritreans are the biggest group of asylum seekers in Africa, involving about 6% of the population. A UN report found that up to 400,000 people were 'enslaved' in the Eritrean military. In 2016, the UN called for the government to be brought before the International Criminal Court for continued crimes against humanity.

The President, Isaias Afwerki, was elected in 1993 and is still there 25 years later with no opposition

Earty. Amnesty International elieves that the government of Afwerki has imprisoned at least 10,000 political prisoners and claims that torture--for punishment, interrogation and coercion--is...

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