Mekele (also spelled Mekelle) is situated on the bottom of hills, and was founded by Emperor Yohannes IV as his capital when he relocated his power base from Debra Berhane to Mekele in 1881. Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray 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).
Yohannes built a number of churches including the churches of Saint Teklehaimanot, Medhane Alem and Kidane Mihret during the 1870s and a palace, which is now a museum, in the 1880s.
Mekele is a useful base from which to visit the rock-hewn churches of Tigray such as the Churches of "Abraha wa Atsebah" in Wukro.
Atse Yohannes IV's Palace
Mekele is the seat of a historical palace called Atse Yohannes IV Palace named after the famous King who ruled Ethiopia from 1872-1889. 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 and the fantastic throne of Atse Yohannnes IV made by the Italian engineer Giacomo Nareri in 1874 is the eye catching centerpiece of the museum.
Dejat Abraha Castle
Mekelle has also a quite imposing and impressive castle called Dejatch Abraha's Castle built around 1906. Located at the heart of the city that 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 Seni, 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 Haile Selassie’s bid to crash the peasant uprising known as the First Woyane in the late 1940s.
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 (Dallol) Depression and transported by camel, mule and donkey caravans.The caravans carrying bars of salt arrive at Mekelle in big numbers, especially in Saturday Market.
Hawelti - Monument of the Martyrs
Another interesting hallmark of Mekelle is Hawelti. 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.
A perfect place to stay at Mekele include; Axum Hotel, Hil Top Hotel, Milano Hotel, Abrha Castle Hotel, Atse Yohannes Hotel, Alula Aba Nega Hotel and Seti Hotel.
The beginning of rock-cut churches in Ethiopia is dated to the 6th century by the Nine Saints. This rock-church tradition is associated with the birth and burial places of Jesus Christ, which were a cave in Bethelem and carved rock in Gologotha, respectively. In addition to this symbolic importance, churches were built from rocks perhaps for their physical durability and long-lasting.
Although the tradition of rock-hewn church excavation was started earlier in 6th century, it reached at its high level of development during the period of Zagwe Dyansty, particularly during the reign of King Lalibela in the 12th century. In this regard, the famous rock-hewn churches of Laiblea are best examples.
The prominent rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are eleven in number and situated in three groups separated by the seasonal river Jordan. Churches of the first group are believed to have been built first and are usually visited first by many of the tourists.
They are Bete Medhane-Alem, Bete Mariam, Bete Mesekel, Bete Denagel, Bete Golgotha and Bete Debre Sina. Churches of the second group are situated south of the Jordan River and comprise Bete Gabriel, Bete Amanuel, Bete Merkorios, and Bete Abba Libanos. In the third group, there is only one isolated church i.e Bete Giorgis. It is located a few minutes walk to the south west of both the first and second group of churches.