Quick Facts about Mekelle and its outskirts
Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigrai National Regional State, lies 780 km north of Addis Ababa. It can be reached by plane and bus.
According to local historians Mekelle was founded in the 13th century. However, its heyday came soon after Emperor Yohannes IV was crowned as king of the kings of Ethiopia (1871-1889).
Spread out on a plain and partly encircled by a chain of mountains, Mekelle covers 28 km square and has an estimated population of 175,000. Setting 2200 meters above sea level it enjoys good weather all the year round.
Mekelle has more recently become a town where rapid political and economic developments are taking place. It is also becoming an educational center, with amazing proliferation of institutions of public and private higher learning.
A new international standard airport has been inaugurated very recently.
With the tree-lined avenues and parks, Mekelle caters several modest hotels as well as estaurants, which serve both traditional and international cuisine. To date seven star level hotels have been awarded certificate of merit.
More hotels and restaurants are expected to receive their “stars”.
The city has ample medical services and good telecommunication system, which links it to the rest of the country and the world. Its banks change US dollars and other strong currencies.
It has travel agent offices, for example, Goh tours and Travel Agency that rent four wheel-drive vehicles. Horn Africa, another Travel Agency can be contacted for bookings.
Atse Yohannes IV's Palace
Emperor Yohannes chose Mekelle as the seat of his government and built his graceful palace, still intact, in 1870s. The palace now serves as a museum. The Emperor’s throne, royal bed, ceremonial dress, rifles and many other valuable historical collections can be seen in the museum.
Dejat Abraha Castle
A local lord built Abraha castle, which has very similar architectural design with Emperor Yohannes palace, in 1890s. At present the castle is a hotel, commanding a magnificent view of Mekelle.
Edaga Seni - Open Air Market
The famous old Monday market, Idaga Soni, is surrounded by unique arched buildings. It is here in the open-air market where the British Royal Air Force carried out air raids in support of Emperor Haileselassie’s bid to crash the peasant uprising known as th First Woyane in the late 1940s.
The new open-air market displays a wide range of local products, from fresh food to leather products.
Mekelle is also a primary transfer point for the salt bar trade. The salt bar locally called Amole had been the standard currency of the region until the late 19th century. Salt is mined from the Denakil Depression and transported by camel, mule and donkey caravans (locally called Arho where ArhoNet Plc inherits its name).
The caravans carrying bars of salt arrive at Mekelle in big numbers, especially in Saturday Market.
Enda Rae’si, situated at the foot of the eastern escarpment overlooking the town, is covered by giant old indigenous trees, and is a reminder of the wide forest cover that once graced the town.
The town entertains people who reside in old-fashioned houses called Hidmos. The houses are square and circle in shape and built of stone. The flat roofs are made of wood and covered with soil and grass. Even some are one-storey buildings.
There are living-quarters, for instance, Addis-Alem, Edaga-Beerai, and DJibruk, where local drinks, most popular “Siwa,” are served. This beverage, a sort of beer, is made from roasted bread (maize, millet, or sorghum), water and malted barely fermented with “gesho" (herb that gives a flavor). Tella houses are noted by their red-banners.
Mekelle is cherished by another special occasion called ‘Ashenda’ that takes place every year among August 22-24. It is an event most yearned by girls. Young girls dressed in beautiful traditional outfits and in small groups, go from house to house singing and dancing. These lovely girls putting on their best apparel and personality celebrate the occasion continuously for three days.
The mountain that enfolds Mekelle in the east is partitioned into an array of spurs of which one is named Endayesus, This place, now the seat of Mekelle University, is where the Ethiopians scored heroic victory over the Italian invading army sometimes before the ultimate battle of Adwa triumph in 1896.
The cemetery of the Italian soldiers over here testifies the humiliating beat the Fascist enemy encountered.
Hawelti - Monument of the Martyrs
Another interesting hallmark of Mekelle is Hawelti. The monument is 5 1 meter long. It is erected to dignify the valiant fighters who sacrificed themselves to emancipate their people from the dictatorial military regime (1974-1991).
The sculpture complex is supposed to consist of museum, library, conference hall, restaurant and many other sections. Having a commanding view over the vicinity, the site deserves a visit.
To the northeast, the escarpment that walls Mekelle, falls into a Vshaped valley whose floor is found swathed with vegetables. This locality called Feleg da’ero has two historic monuments.
The first, set on the foot side of the mountain, is an abandoned, church and the second one located on a raised place amid the plain is a ruined castle.
Standing well since the 17th Century, the deserted building topped like a castle, has a ceiling with a fine circular wood at the center from which a series of timber wrapped by a colorful silk clothes spread to the wall.
This allows the roof to feature conical shape. The castle, a normal two storeyed house is about 120 years old. Its ground floor has three paired wooden pillars. Each couple carries a doubled lumber running east-west that in turn holds a set of eight woods accompanied by successive timbers.
The upstairs, with a salon, opens itself towards east to form a balcony. The apartment has three pillars that shoulder the roof. The ceiling like its counter is made up of a series of paired beams running south-north against chained and flattened woods. The palace has extra rooms and many large salons.
Ellala and Kalmino rivers
The way to Feleg da’ero turns to the right about a km from Ellala bridge which is 5 km on the Mekelle-Adigrat road. The site is 3 km from, the turn off.
Elalla and Kelamino rivers that pour from mountainsides lying east of Mekelle rush parallel westbound bordering the city. Elalla, running north of Mekelle and Kelamino traveling the opposite plunge into cataracts namely Romanat and Chele-anqua.
The way to Romanat turns left at 19 km on the Mekelle-Abbi Addi road. It is 21 km far from the city. The other waterfall is located about 10 km southwest of the capital. All are haunted by birds of many kinds.
Mekelle has important places of worship. Orthodox Christian churches and mosques out-numbered the rest. The churches celebrate New Year, Meskel (the founding of the True Cross) and Timket (epiphany).
They take place on September 10 or 11, September 26 or 27 and January 19 or 20 most of the year respectively.
The Mosques on their sides commemorate Id Al Fetir, Id Al Adeha and Maulid. Both occasions draw a big crowd mostly decked out in traditional attires.
Mekelle is an ideal place from which to glimpse the countryside, the nearby rock-hewn churches and the Denakil Depression known as Reged.
Chelekot is a small village only 17 kms south of Mekelle where a century old church by the name of Selassie (Trinity) is situated.
The track to Chelokot turns off at 5 kms on the Mekelle-Samre road. Selassie Chelekot is one of the great churches in Ethiopia. The church is famous for its magnificent paintings, murals and valuable church treasures.
The church with rock-hewn entrance depicting a Greek cross has three doors and nine windows. Both openings have their exterior and interior scenes appearing circular and rectangular.
The windows are made in such a way to allow enough light into the inner part of the church. The construction is executed following the Aksumite architectural styles.
The church holds six free standing pillars that arc well decorated. The ceiling too is incised with striking designs and patterns. Some carry cross and sun lights.
It is also alternatively ornamented with Aksumite blind arches, identical to that of Gheralta rock-hewn churches. It is reached by a vehicle.
A castle like church, Mikael Ara, is perched along the Mekelle-Addis Ababa road. The church made of stone, has two cruciform wooden pillars which support its ceiling.
The inner part, decorated with fine timbers and rich paintings are the focal point of the attraction. The relic lies 8 km east of Adigudom, town. 35 km after Mekelle.