Fiat Tagliero, the colonial spaceship of Asmara

Since last year, at the suggestion of Elsa, founder of Smile Project, we have started to present a series of small stories about the culture and traditions of Eritrea that might intrigue, interest, and inspire the friends of Smile Project. To learn more about this fantastic country to which the thoughts and energies of our project go

Some months ago, we talked about the Coffee Rite and the Orthodox Christmas celebrations, today we want to talk about architecture and in particular the Fiat Tagliero, an icon of Asmara architecture. The city, nicknamed ‘little Rome’ thanks to the rationalist and deco-style buildings that changed its appearance since the 1920s, looks very much like any Italian city with the bars (Bar Vittoria, Pasticceria Moderna, etc.), the corso and the markets, but with the difference that we are in Africa and that time seems to have stopped. Asmara is located on the Eritrean plateau at an altitude of almost 2,400 metres and was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2017 for its modernist architecture, inherited from Italian colonialism, and which the Eritreans have managed to preserve despite thirty years of war, and to make it a symbol of national identity.

A perfect example of Asmara’s architecture is the Fiat Tagliero service area, a futurist construction in the shape of an aeroplane completed in 1938 and which has become a symbol of the city: still a fascinating eighty! The building was designed by architect Giuseppe Pettazzi, (perhaps as a tribute to the Lingotto in Turin, the modern Fiat factory inaugurated in 1923) and was initially conceived as a simple petrol station, but later turned into one of the best known Fiat centres in Italian Africa. At that time, a service station was a symbol of modernity and travel, and the Tagliero, with its central tower and two dramatic concrete wings with 15-metre cantilevers, represented an original and courageous project.
Various legends have been built around its history, the most famous of which relates that, the day before the inauguration, workers had refused to remove the supports used during the work to support the wings, fearing that they would collapse. It is said that Pettazzi threatened the site foreman with a revolver to convince them to remove the structures: the wings not only did not collapse, but have survived decay and civil war to this day. Among the stories told, it seems that Giovanni Tagliero, director of the Fiat factory and who lived in Eritrea until 1974, was also involved in some vicissitudes in 1951.

The Fiat Tagliero service area is still today one of the most important examples of futurist architecture, and its forms seem to have influenced style and design in a wide variety of fields, from architecture to furniture.