Eritrea's long-running request to the United Nations to preserve its unique architecture has finally been welcomed by the body.

Cinema Impero has held screenings for thousands of Eritreans since 1937.
Cinema Impero has held screenings for thousands of Eritreans since 1937.

The United Nations has finally agreed with Eritreans who say their capital Asmara is like no other city in Africa. The organisation's cultural body, UNESCO, has added Asmara to its list of World Heritage sites.

"The city's recognition as a heritage site of outstanding universal value fills us with tremendous pride and joy, but also with a profound sense of responsibility and duty," said Hanna Simon, Eritrea's permanent delegate to UNESCO.

The Fiat Tiaglero was built in 1938 as a petrol station shaped as an aeroplane.
The Fiat Tiaglero was built in 1938 as a petrol station shaped as an aeroplane.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in the Polish city of Krakow on July 7.

A former Italian colony, most of the futuristic designs of the Eritrean capital date back to the rule of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini from 1936 to 1941.

Asmara is an open-air museum of modern architecture as the city features a 20th-century modernist style within the African context. Most of the futuristic designs of the Eritrean capital were built during the era of Italian colonial rule.

Asmara was known as Piccola Roma, or Little Rome.
Asmara was known as Piccola Roma, or Little Rome.

Architects whose designs were not welcomed in conservative European cities found a place in Asmara at a time when about half of the city's population was Italian.

A boy cleans the outside of the Bar Zilli building, an Art Deco-style cinema, on Beirut Street of Asmara.
A boy cleans the outside of the Bar Zilli building, an Art Deco-style cinema, on Beirut Street of Asmara.

When Italian colonialism ended in 1941, it left stunning futuristic, cubist and rationalistic buildings which have been preserved since then.

While the modernist architecture of other Eritrean cities was destroyed during a decades-long war of liberation from Ethiopia, Asmara's survived and was declared a national monument by the government in 2001, which refers to it as Africa's City of Dreams.

A Fiat drives along a street in Eritrea's capital Asmara.
A Fiat drives along a street in Eritrea's capital Asmara.

Eritreans are now hopeful that the country's tourism will benefit from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Despite its historical natural sources, the tiny country in Horn of Africa is not a regular travel destination for tourists.According to the government estimates, 107.000 tourists visited the country in 2011.However, government guides told the New York Times there were fewer than 1,000 visitors in 2015.

The Cinema Roma was built in 1937 as the Cinema Excelsior. It was re-named Cinema Roma during the Italian fascist occupation.
The Cinema Roma was built in 1937 as the Cinema Excelsior. It was re-named Cinema Roma during the Italian fascist occupation.

The Eritrean government has not enforced the rule of law since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. President Isaias Afewerki has been ruling Eritrea since it became an independent country in 1993.

People gather in front of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Asmara.
People gather in front of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Asmara.

His government has been accused of oppressing opposition, and crackdowns on media. Thousands of Eritreans have fled the country as some of them take a dangerous journey to reach to Europe illegally every year.

The country is being ruled under a one-party state. Constitution and presidential elections were planned to take place in 1997 but they have never been implemented.

Author: Mucahid Durmaz

Source: TRTWorld and agencies