Located at over 2000 metres above sea level, Asmara was formed in the 12th century from four villas as a trading post and later as the capital of Prince Ras Alula. It was colonized by Italy in 1889, becoming national capital in 1897. The capital of Eritrea was developed from the 1890’s onwards as a military outpost for the Italian colonial power. After 1935, Asmara underwent a large scale programme of construction applying the Italian rationalist idiom of the time to governmental edifices, residential and commercial buildings, churches, mosques, synagogues, cinemas, hotels, etc. It was then called the “Piccola Roma” (Little Rome).
The property encompasses the area of the city that resulted from various phases of planning between 1893 and 1941, as well as the indigenous unplanned neighbourhoods of Arbate Asmera and Abbashawel. It is an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context.