Art (Deco) Attack in Asmara

Asmara is one of the most entrancing cities in Africa. It usually comes as a surprise to travellers to discover a slick city crammed with architectural gems harking back to the city's heyday as the 'Piccolo Roma' (small Rome). Isolated for nearly 30 years during its war with Ethiopia, Asmara escaped both the trend to build post-colonial piles and the push towards developing-world urbanisation. Thus, it has kept its heritage buildings almost intact. Wander the streets in the centre and you'll gaze upon a showcase of art deco, international, cubist, expressionist, functionalist, futurist, rationalist and neoclassical architectural styles. Among the most outstanding buildings are the Opera House, the Ministry of Education, the Cinema Impero, the Municipality Building and the Cinema Roma. But nothing can compare with the Fiat Tagliero Building, a superb example of a futuristic architecture. Built in 1938, it is designed to look like an aeroplane (or a spaceship, or a bat). The central tower with its glass 'cockpit' is similar to many structures in Miami, USA.

The best way to see Asmara's architectural heritage is to walk around town. Asmara: Africa's Secret Modernist City, a book by Edward Denison, is the most comprehensive source on the subject.