Addis Abeba

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Actual photo of the "Addis Abeba Stadium", built by the Italians in 1940

Addis Abeba was the name of the capital of Ethiopia during the five years of Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa grew from 45,000 in 1936 to nearly 150,000 inhabitants in spring 1941, when the Italians were defeated and the Allies (with emperor Selassie) returned to the city.


In May 1936 the Italians proclaimed the creation of the Italian Empire in east Africa, with capital Addis Abeba (now called "Addis Ababa").

Soon the city was improved with many structures, from paved roads to sewage systems. A new urban masterplan was studied for the city, that was approved in 1938 and by late 1940 Addis Abeba (where the Italian were more than one third of the inhabitants) was full of constructions (that were blocked because of WW2).

Indeed the Italians invested substantively and created the "imperial road" between Addis Abeba and Massaua, the Addis Abeba - Mogadishu and the Addis Abeba - Assab.[1].The Italians also built more than 4,500 km of roads linking the country to Addis Abeba while beyond 900 km of railways were reconstructed or initiated (like the railway between Addis Abeba and Assab). Italians even created new airports and in 1936 started the worldwide famous Linea dell'Impero, a flight connecting Addis Abeba to Rome. The line was opened after the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and was followed by the first air links with the Italian colonies in Italian East Africa, which began in a pioneering way since 1934. The route was enlarged to 6,379 km and initially joined Rome with Addis Ababa via Syracuse, Benghazi, Cairo, Wadi Halfa, Khartoum, Kassala, Asmara, Dire Dawa.[2] There was a change of aircraft in Benghazi (or sometimes in Tripoli). The route was carried out in three and a half days of daytime flight and the frequency was four flights per week in both directions. Later from Addis Ababa there were three flights a week that continued to Mogadishu, capital of Italian Somalia.

The most important railway line in the African colonies of the Kingdom of Italy, the Djibouti-Addis Ababa long 784 km, was acquired following the conquest of the Ethiopian Empire by the Italians in 1936. The route was served until 1935 by steam trains that took about 36 hours to do the total trip between the capital of Ethiopia and the port of Djibouti. Following the Italian conquest was obtained in 1938 the increase of speed for the trains with the introduction of four railcars high capacity "type 038" derived from the model Fiat ALn56.[3]

These diesel trains were able to reach 70 km/h and so the time travel was cut in half to just 18 hours: they were used until the mid 1960s.[4] At the main station of Addis Abeba there were some bus connections to the other cities of Italian Ethiopia not served by the railway.[5] Additionally, near the Addis Ababa station was created a special unit against fire, that was the only one in all Africa.

A remarkable effort was made to improve healthcare in Ethiopia (mainly in Addis Abeba): beside the doctors belonging to the Italian Africa Health Corps, flanked by 450 military doctors, there were about 500 civilian doctors (232 specialists, among whom 30 pediatricians, and 262 general practitioners). Special maternity wards were built in the hospitals situated in the main locations. The new Italian hospital in Addis Ababa had a delivery room and a pediatric clinic, with a capacity of over 100 beds in its various sections: expectant mothers, postpartum mothers, babies’ room, gynecological ward, infectious diseases, visitors’ room, etc. The children’s hospital was subdivided into separate wards for babies and older children, for infectious, gastro-intestinal or pulmonary diseases, etc. Moreover, a university-type faculty was founded in 1941 in Asmara to train nurses....Social life in Addis Ababa (and Asmara) was pulsating just like that of any other European town. At the heart of the city were the markets: in the capital (Addis Abeba) in 1939 over 75,000 heads of cattle had been slaughtered and thousands of tons of foodstuffs had been sold. Dozens of shops and even department stores were opened in both cities. Leisure activities also boomed: in Addis Ababa four cinemas had been built...New dancehalls, restaurants and bars were being opened everywhere. The working men’s clubs and numerous sports and recreational societies, supported by local government and by the PNF, organised the colonists’ (and native Etiopians) free time.

— G. Podesta[6]

Because the Italian rule lasted just five years, only a few of the many Italian buildings & projects were completed: one was the Addis Abeba Stadium, inaugurated in spring 1940. Originally in 1937 it was called "Campo sportivo Littorio"[7], while in 1940 it was enlarged with a tribune and the athletic lanes section.

In spring 1941 ceased to exist the Italian administration of Addis Abeba and most of the more than 40,000 Italians living in the city started to return to Italy.


  1. ^ "1940 Article on the special road Addis Abeba-Assab and map (in Italian)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-02. Retrieved 2019-03-29.
  2. ^ Treccani: Via dell'Impero (in Italian)
  3. ^ Fiat ALn56 "Littorina"
  4. ^ Image of a Fiat ALn56 in 1964 Addis Abeba station
  5. ^ Dire Dawa bus connection to Harrar
  6. ^ Podesta: "Family and Society in Italian Africa"
  7. ^ Video showing the inauguration of the "Littorio" sport field in 1937

See also[edit]


  • Antonicelli, Franco. Trent'anni di storia italiana 1915 - 1945. Mondadori ed. Torino, 1961
  • Caprotti, Federico. Visuality, Hybridity, and Colonialism: Imagining Ethiopia through Colonial Aviation, 1935–1940 Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101.2 (2011): 380–403.
  • Sarti, Roland. The Ax Within: Italian fascism in action New York, 1974 New Viewpoints, ISBN 0-531-06498-0
  • Shimelis Bonsa Gulema, Brioni Simone.The Horn of Africa and Italy: Colonial, Postcolonial and Transnational Cultural Encounters Oxford, 2017 ISBN 978-1-78707-993-9