The elderly gentlemen who frequent the many coffee bars in Asmara, Eritrea's capital, dressed in European suits, fashionable hats and hand-made leather shoes refer to themselves as "Asmarinos". Proud of their city and their country's history, they remember living under Italian occupation in the 1930s when Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini, briefly attempted to create an 'Italian Empire'. At that time, the palm lined Independence Avenue, then called Viale Mussolini, was completely off limits for locals.
Today, this part of local history is only reflected in the cornucopia of modernist, Italian architecture that is dotted around the city, a product of the experimental construction boom of the early 1900s and the Mussolini era. Asmarinos are proud to still be conversant in Italian and follow the ways of 1930s Italy in many of their ways, especially in their choice of fashion which speaks of a bygone era of Italian gentlemen.