30 June 2007
Probably the world’s most beautiful petrol station
Mark Holland

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It’s in Asmara, which is, as you doubtless all know, the capital of Eritrea.

The Red Sea country was an Italian colony from 1890 to 1941. Presumably, along with Libya, it was their bit of the “Scramble for Africa” that kicked off when the newly unified nations of Germany and Italy along with that other 19th Century new nation Belgium looked at the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portugese and Russian Empires and thought, “hey, we want some of that, what bit of the world isn’t yet taken?” Thus the city of Asmara has a distinctly Italian feel. But not only that. Mussolini let Italian architects loose on the place from 1936 onwards so it is therefore full of futuristic buildings celebrating and heralding the technological age.

From The Daily Telegraph:

Giuseppe Pettazzi was one of those architects, and took his passions to almost comic proportions in the building of the iconic Fiat Tagliero building - probably the world’s most beautiful petrol station, and also one of the world’s supreme examples of Futurism, its vertical and horizontal lines extolling speed and motion and urgency.

Basing his building on the contours of an aeroplane, Pettazzi was forced by Italian planning laws to include pillar supports for the two concrete ‘wings’. Legend has it that during the inauguration he demanded the wooden props removed, and when the builders refused, he took a pistol and threatened to shoot their headman, demonstrating absolute faith in his design by standing on the tip of one wing during the de-posting process

Although I’d have expected other such windswept and interesting places about which I know little such as Dakar or Algiers - and why does La corniche Oranaise spring to mind? - to have retained some of the architecture of the period: apparently there’s nothing else quite like it in Africa. 

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