The city is located at the northwestern edge of the Eritrean Highlands and the Great Rift Valley. Asmara was first settled in 800 BC. However, the city was actually founded in the 12th century AD: according to Eritrean Tigrinya oral traditional history, the women of each of the four distinct clans that lived in the area agreed that to defeat a common enemy (they were frequently attacked by clans from the low land) and live peacefully the four clans had to unite. Hence, the name “Arbate Asmera”, which literally means “the four [feminine] made them unite”. From the 1890s onwards, Asmara developed as a military outpost for the Italian colonial power. After 1935, the capital underwent a large scale program of construction, acquiring its Italian architectural look as a symbol of colonial fascism during that period of time. In fact, the city has thousands of Art Deco, futurist, modernist, and rationalist buildings.
Asmara was then listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context.” It was the first modernist city to be listed in its entirety. The city is now a visual representation of a struggle for self-determination of the Eritrean people, in the midst of palpable outstanding evidence of their colonial past.