Appropriating the Colonial City: The Case of Asmara

The aim for this paper was to understand the processes by which Asmarinos appropriated Asmara and the colonial cultural capital, wow it came about and the meaning of space in that process.

Asmara is the capital of Eritrea. It was used as an experiment for Italian modernist architecture during Italian colonialism. It was to a large extent built on social environment ideals imagined by fascist ideology, which means that it was a highly segregated city. Asmara was envisioned to foster new Italians and exemplify a refined modern Italian culture, permitting Eritreans to the periphery of Asmara, spatially, culturally and socially through strict policies of segregation and exclusion. Yet, there are many testimonies of the fact that Eritreans have embraced Asmara and its built environment.

What unfolds through the paper is a discrepancy between the meta-narrative of the fascist city and the local urban experience. Everyday life, social practices, individual strategies for social and economic mobility, and institutional structures within the city perpetuate a different representation of Asmara than that envisioned by Mussolini. Such representation of Asmara is probably closer to the reality of Eritrean life under colonialism. In that sense, appropriation of the settlers’ Asmara and their cultural aesthetics is what birth the Asmarino.

The paper is available on

Very good understanding and use of abstract concepts. That is what science is all about. You can really work with the linkages between abstract and concrete, between theory and empirical material. Appropriation and colonialism: how do these two concepts actually relate? Is appropriation one reaction to colonialism, a feature of colonialism?

Hard work, carefully crafted text. Very analytical, elaborate argumentation of your own, original interpretation of discrepancy between the fascist ideal and the everyday life lived in Asmara. Excellent!

Prof. Guy Baeten