Date: Monday, 19 August 2019
A young government official, engineer Medhaie, receives us in his office of coordinator of the Unesco project for Asmara. While he is pleased with our attention, he underlines, between bitterness and perfidy, that the important result of Asmara's World Heritage is not due to the guidelines and studies of an Italian, but to the careful and meticulous work of an Englishman , Edward Denison.
After my repeated visits to Libya and Ethiopia, I would not have expected that the Italian domination, in Eritrea, which ceased in 1941, had left such deep and resistant traces. To the little more than the five hundred Italians still resident, but who were, without conflict, sixty thousand until 1974, the time of nationalization, must be added the Eritreans who emigrated to Italy, commuters in the summer, and who know our television and football champions. Both express an intrinsic and mutual affection: Italians are not perceived as an oppressor people that colonized Eritrea, but as a friendly people. The so-called Ascari embody its identity, Eritreans born at home when Asmara was Italian (as it still appears in its entirety), but also in the following decades,
An ascaro, more Italian than us, Ghilè, accompanies us. He shares our emotion for the places where Italy appears most respected, with honor and decorum: the orderly and flowery military cemetery of Asmara, and the monument of Dogali, in memory of a defeat and 500 deaths. The column that celebrates them is the work of a sculptor from Pietrasanta, Eumene Tomagnini. With that humiliation, at the beginning of the Italian presence, the Prime Minister, Agostino Depretis, fell in 1887, and the king appointed Francesco Crispi. I must say that these names that to us, at the mercy of foolish and inconclusive governments, say little or nothing today, are still remembered: on the bridge that goes towards Massaua, and also in the grateful memory of the Eritreans who feel the Italians much closer, which they built cities and streets, starting with the Governor and great writer,
The UNESCO coordinator proudly accompanies us to the hotel Italia (again properties, like Dahlak di Massaua, of an astute and satisfied Italian: Giovanni Primo); and then, with Ghilè, he insists on taking us off the path, to the Tre Stelle bar, for another Italian "monument": macchiato, served in a glass cup, already sweetened. Cavallarin writes that "at the Tre Stelle bar, if you go by car, and play the horn, they bring it to you on the door, specially opened, of the dashboard that becomes an occasional small table". From experience, the Vittoria bar, dear to Italian diplomats and officers, does not diminish on the spotty.
In this world of lost Italy that is identified, for me and for Guccini, in the "deflector" disappeared from cars, and buried in oblivion, there is another custom, I believe obsolete even in the remotest Italian province, which it is the game of billiards, not with the surviving cue (of which there is a lasting memory in the film Amici miei), but with the most virtuous and manual use of the bottles, which was literally the gym of my childhood and adolescence. On several tables, with a crowd of public, they play young people who, with their precision, call the applause. A vintage emotion from Italy in the 50s and 60s (and obviously even earlier), and here it is absolutely current.
The same can not be said of the beautiful cinemas: Rome, Empire, Capitol, Odeon, abandoned or desolate, with nostalgic posters of Italian comedy programming from the 50s to the 70s: Fellini, Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi, and with the vivid memory of the theatrical presences of Totò, Walter Chiari and Carosone. After the closure of the Melotti brewery, today governmental, with the well-chosen brand Dolce vita (in the Vespa characters), which evokes years far from Italian domination, an intelligent Italian entrepreneur, Pietro Zambaiti, ascaro, resumed the reproduction of sophisticated clothing. backwards, which found more Italy in Asmara than in Bergamo. I wanted to give back some local color and wonder for some happy meetings. But back to Asmara.
Since 2017, the year of registration on the UNESCO list, there have been no restorations, but an awareness raising. And more Eritrean than Italian. Fortifying the instinct of gratitude that I tried to describe. It may surprise you, but I did not see a single Italian tourist, nor a curious traveler, nor an architecture student, with such an important manual of examples, starting from what can be considered the company's trademark, the Tagliero petrol station with the symbol of Fiat, freed from successive and false signs, like those of Shell, to return it, by pure elegance and decorum, to its original lines. It is a futuristic invention, from 1938, of the young Italian architect Giuseppe Pettazzi, like a plane gliding over the square from which viale De Bono starts, then Rome, with other famous monuments like the
Not far away, in a neo-Romanesque style, is the church and convent of San Francesco, designed by Paolo Reviglio. The Empire cinema, Mario Messina's original invention, has a worn interior, but an interesting wall decoration of African-inspired stuccoes, with palms, antelopes, deco-style dance scenes, with wavy stucco curtains, and lion's head protomes. ceramic to delimit the area of the stage. Near the Cathedral, from whose bell tower you can see all the development of Asmara, there are the apartment compartment of Palazzo Falletta, tetragonal structure of Carlo Marchi, between 1937 and 1938, and the Casa del beam, completed by Bruno Sclafani in 1940, all buildings in respectful abandon. Too late, UNESCO arrived to save the rationalist hotel Selam, formerly Albergo Ciaao (West Africa hotel real estate company), which they are restoring, starting to devastate the graniglia floor, in the original Rinaldo Borgnino project of 1937. I told the president that the restoration of Italian buildings must be tackled with rigor, otherwise it is better not to touch them. Better consumption than transformation. Better the ghosts of the past than the monsters of the present.
If UNESCO, with a happy choice, without fearing the shadows of fascism, indicates the architectural and urban wonder of Asmara to Eritrea, Italy cannot pretend not to see, or turn its back on, in front of its heritage like this conspicuous and significant. The seal of this convergence of destinies is in the beautiful words of General Amedeo Guillet, in a tombstone in the cemetery of the heroes of Keren: "The Eritreans were splendid. All that we can do for Eritrea will never be what Eritrea has done for us ». Beside, the burials of hundreds of unknown ascari.