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in the news

When explorer and traveller Mike Street first went to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, in 1995 it was scarcely with the idea of launching a crusade. But he did exactly that, so bowled over was he by the beauty of the city and the need to preserve it from unthinking development. 'I kept raving about it to my friends,' he explains. 'They said: 'Why don't you do something about it'.'

Hence his fervent proselytising which has resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines, and pledges of support from people as diverse as the president of Eritrea, Issais Afewerki, Giora Solar, the special projects director of the Getty Conservation Institute, and Francis Golding , secretary of the Royal Fine Art Commission.

Street loves the city, which both the Italians and the Eritreans describe as 'Piccola Roma', for the way it combines elements of Africa, the Middle East and Italy. But he also adores the 1930s architecture - although he has no architectural training he developed an interest on his travels.

These travels have dominated his life. Now 48, he did an engineering training at the uk Atomic Energy Authority in Harwell, but hated it. 'It was like being in prison for four years,' he says. He left England in 1972 and has been abroad virtually constantly since then. His despised qualification allowed him to design tea and coffee plants in Rwanda, and from there he moved on to Burundi, Sudan and Papua New Guinea. Later, in Paris, he was a freelance consultant on agro-industrial projects in Africa, Indonesia and the Yemen. He ran walking tours of Paris specialising in seventeenth-century history and architecture and, since 1991, has been taking walking tours through the Mediterranean and north Africa, and cultural and natural-history tours in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Although he kept hearing abut Asmara in the mid-1970s , the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia stopped him getting there until 1995. He believes it has tourist potential - at 2400 m high, it is 'an ideal winter resort for Europeans'. He is almost as enthusiastic about Eritrea's old Turkish port of Massawa, although 'the summer climate is hell for Europeans'. Once known as the pearl of the Red Sea, Massawa is another fascinating culture clash, with Turkish, Italian and Egyptian influences.

Street is delighted that the Twentieth Century Society's involvement is reducing the burden of co-ordinating the Asmara campaign. He is leaving the uk on 20 September to lead a study tour for the American Museum of Natural History in Ethiopia, and later is going back to Asmara. After that? 'I want to do more exploration of various parts of Africa and a wild river in Ethiopia.'

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