Restoring Churches in Occupied Ethiopia: The Appropriation of the Middle Ages in Italian East Africa 1936-1941
Mikael Muehlbauer is a specialist in the architecture of medieval Ethiopia and Egypt. He earned his PhD in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University in 2020 with a dissertation on cruciform plan churches in northern Ethiopia. Mikael's research has been supported by a number of grants and fellowships, most recently from the ACLS, Dumbarton Oaks, and the American Research Center in Egypt. Mikael has published articles in Muqarnas, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, West 86th, and Aethiopica. Prior to coming to I Tatti, Mikael held teaching positions at Columbia University, William Paterson University, Queens College CUNY, and California State University Long Beach.
While the large-scale infrastructural and modernist architectural projects undertaken in Ethiopia during the Italian occupation between 1936 and 1941 are well known today, colonial engagement with Ethiopia’s existing medieval monuments remains largely unstudied. This project surveys hitherto untapped colonial-era archives in Italy to understand how and why this occupying force restored and rebuilt many of Ethiopia’s medieval monuments. As Fascist Italy attempted to make Ethiopia a place of settlement for Italians, the medieval monuments of Ethiopia were planned to be major tourist destinations in this new colonial system. Moreover, Italian investments in Ethiopia’s medieval heritage reflected a colonial interest in symbolically uniting Ethiopian antiquity with Italy’s own fascist cultural canon.