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ASMARA, the capital of the Italian colony of Eritrea, N.E. Africa. It is built on the Hamasen plateau, near its eastern edge, at an elevation of 7800 ft., and is some 40 m. W.S.W. in a direct line of the seaport of Massawa. Pop. (1904) about 9000, including the garrison of 300 Italian soldiers, and some 1000 native troops. The European civil population numbers over 500; the rest of the inhabitants are chiefly Abyssinians. There is a small Mahommedan colony. The town is strongly fortified. The European quarter contains several fine public buildings, including the residence of the governor, club house, barracks and hospital. Fort Baldissera is built on a hill to the south-west of the town and is considered impregnable.

Asmara, an Amharic word signifying “good pasture place,” is a town of considerable antiquity. It was included in the maritime province of northern Abyssinia, which was governed by a viceroy who bore the title of Bahar-nagash (ruler of the sea). By the Abyssinians the Hamasen plateau was known as the plain of the thousand villages. Asmara appears to have been one of the most prosperous of these villages, and to have attained commercial importance through being on the high road from Axum to Massawa. When Werner Munzinger (q.v.) became French consul at Massawa, he entered into a scheme for annexing the Hamasen (of which Asmara was then the capital) to France, but the outbreak of the war with Germany in 1870 brought the project to nought (cf. A.B. Wylde, Modern Abyssinia, 1901). In 1872 Munzinger, now in Egyptian service, annexed Asmara to the khedivial dominions, but in 1884, owing to the rise of the mahdi, Egypt evacuated her Abyssinian provinces and Asmara was chosen by Ras Alula, the representative of the negus Johannes (King John), as his headquarters. Shortly afterwards the Italians occupied Massawa, and in 1889 Asmara (see Abyssinia: History). In 1900 the seat of government was transferred from Massawa to Asmara, which in its modern form is the creation of the Italians. It is surrounded by rich agricultural lands, cultivated in part by Italian immigrants, and is a busy trading centre. A railway from Massawa to Asmara was completed as far as Ghinda, at the foot of the plateau, in 1904. At Medrizien, 6 m. north of Asmara, are gold-mines which have been partially worked.

See G. Dainelli, In Africa. Lettere dall’ Eritrea (Bergamo, 1908); R. Perini, Di qua dal Mareb (Florence, 1905).

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