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Mek'ele is a city and woreda in northern Ethiopiamarker. Located in Enderta which is in the Debubawi Zone, Mek'ele is the capital of the Tigray Regionmarker and home to the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is located some 650 kilometers north of the capital, Addis Ababamarker, at latitude and longitude with an elevation of 2084 meters above sea level.

Mek'ele is one of Ethiopia's principal economic and educational centers. Intercity bus service is provided by the Selam Bus Line Share Company. A new international standard airport, Alula Aba Nega Airport (ICAOmarker code HAMK, IATA MQX), has been opened very recently, as well as northern Ethiopia's principal cement production facility. In May 2000, Mekelle University was created by the merger of Mekelle Business College and Mekelle University College.

There are two primary local landmarks in this city. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) monument commemorating the struggle against and overthrow of the Derg, is visible from most of the city - pictured below.

The other is the palace of Yohannes IV at the northern edge of Mek'ele. It was built at the Emperor's command by Giacomo Naretti, who had served Yohannes already at Debre Tabor, with the assistance of William Schimper, and completed in 1884. "Local History in Ethiopia" (pdf) The Nordic Africa Institute website (accessed 6 January 2008) The complex still stands and now serves as a museum, where the Emperor’s throne, royal bed, ceremonial dress, rifles and many other valuable historical collections can be seen.

Other notable landmarks include the churches Enda Gabir, Enda Yesus Mek'ele Bete Mengist, Mek'ele Iyesus, Mek'ele Maryam, Mek'ele Selassie, and Mek'ele Tekle Haymanot. Trans Ethiopia is the local soccer team. A local market has been held every Monday since at least 1890.


According to local historians Mek'ele was founded in the 13th century. Mek'ele was one of the major cities of Enderta province alongside Antalo. Mek'ele's heyday came later during the late nineteenth century, after Yohannes IV was crowned as King of Kings of Ethiopia, and chose Mek'ele as the capital of his realm. It was at this city that his son and heir, Ras Araya Selassie, died of smallpox in June 1888 while assembling an army to support his father. After Yohannes' death at the Battle of Metemma, his successor Emperor Menelik II came to Mek'ele 23 February 1890, where he accepted the submission of the nobles of Tigray -- except for Mangesha Yohannes who had made an appointment to submit 20 days later.

The Italians occupied Mek'ele from the beginning of the First Italo-Abyssinian War (late 1895) until they surrendered their half-completed fort built on the graveyard of the church of Inda Iyesus in January 1896 following the conclusion of the Siege of Mek'ele. The telegraph line the Italians constructed between 1902 and 1904 from Asmaramarker south to Addis Ababamarker passed through the town, giving it a local telegraph office. Writing in the 1890s, Augustus B. Wylde described the Mek'ele market, held on Mondays, as large in size, with the "largest salt market in all Abyssinia", and cattle of all sorts available.

During the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, the Italian forces of General Emilio De Bono captured Mek'ele on 8 November 1935.
Mek'ele was held by the rebels during the "Woyane Rebellion," following their capture of Qwihamarker on the main Asmeramarker - Addis Ababamarker highway 17 September 1943, and after government troops evacuated their fortified position at Inda Iyesus a few days later. The government recovered Mek'ele on 14 October, following their defeat of the Woyane in the Battle of Amba Alagi, but the fighting was so intense that when Thomas Pakenham visited the city in 1954, he found it "a bleak town in a bleak landscape. I was disturbed by the atmosphere. ... Many of the buildings were in ruins; and there were no new buildings to compensate. ... I asked an old man in a bar why there was so much damage. He said that I should know; it was we who had bombed it."

In 1957, Yohannes IV School was one of 9 provincial secondary schools in Ethiopia (excluding Eritrea; that same year a 100-number telephone swtichboard had been installed at Mek'ele. The next year, Mek'ele was one of 27 places in Ethiopia ranked as a First Class Township.

When the Ethiopian Revolution exploded, Ras Mengesha Seyoum was governor in Mek'ele. The Derg ordered him on October 1974 to the capital to face charges of corruption; instead he fled to the hills, where he founded a group that eventually became the Ethiopian Democratic Union.

During the 1984 - 1985 famine in Ethiopia, Mek'ele was notorious for the seven "hunger camps" around the city. These housed 75,000 refugees with 20,000 more waiting to enter; during March 1985, 50-60 people died in these seven camps every day. In February 1986, the TPLF released 1,800 political prisoners from the Mek'ele prison in a daring military action. The operation was named "Agazi" after one of the founder fighters of the TPLF, who had been killed in the second year of the Ethiopian Civil War.

In a series of offensives launched on 25 February 1988 TPLF fighters bypassed Mek'ele but took control of Maychewmarker, Koremmarker and other places along the Dessie-Mekele road, and by June 1988 TPLF controlled all of Tigray except the town of Mek'ele and the territory a radius of 15 kilometers around the city. In response, the Derg had a number of villages around Mek'ele burned 4-5 June, which included Addi Gera, Bahri, Goba Zena, Grarot, Issala, and Rabea. It was not until 25 February 1989 that Mek'ele was also occupied by the TPLF, after the government position in Tigray had collapsed.

On 5 June, 1998 the Eritreanmarker Air Force bombed Ayder School in Mek'elē during the Eritrean-Ethiopian Warmarker killing twelve. A monument commemorates this event.

On 29 December 2002, a riot broke out between Ethiopian Orthodox and Adventist worshippers, over an Adventist prayer service being conducted in a stadium. Some Ethiopian Orthodox believers, upset by the display of public Adventist preaching, reportedly sparked the clashes by first throwing stones at Adventists gathered in the stadium, then by looting Adventist offices in the city. Police intervened to break up the riots, which resulted in five dead and three seriously injured. The police reported that 10 people were detained, but independent sources reported that the number was much larger.

UN Intervention

The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) headquarters was established in Mek'ele in 2000 following the end of the Eritrean-Ethiopian Warmarker. Currently, tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea are still high; therefore the UNMEE is still alert and active in Mek'ele, as well as out of Mekele.


Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2005, Mekele has an estimated total population of 169,207, of whom 85,876 are men and 83,331 are women. The woreda has an estimated area of 24.44 square kilometers, which gives Mekele a density of 6,923.40 people per square kilometer. Mekele is the largest city in northern Ethiopiamarker and sixth largest in Ethiopia.

The 1994 national census reported a total population for Mek'ele of 96,938, of whom 45,729 were men and 51,209 were women. The two largest ethnic groups reported in this town were the Tigrayan (96.5%), the Amhara (1.59%), foreigners from Eritrea (0.99%); all other ethnic groups made up 0.98% of the population. Tigrinya was spoken as a first language by 96.26%, and 2.98% spoke Amharic; the remaining 0.76% spoke all other primary languages reported. 91.31% of the population practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, and 7.66% were Muslim. Concerning education, 51.75% of the population were considered literate, which is more than the Zone average of 15.71%; 91.11% of children aged 7-12 were in primary school; 17.73% of the children aged 13-14 were in junior secondary school; and 52.13% of the inhabitants aged 15-18 were in senior secondary school. Concerning sanitary conditions, about 88% of the urban houses had access to safe drinking water at the time of the census, and about 51% had toilet facilities.


  1. Chris Proutky, Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethiopia 1883-1910 (Trenton: The Red Sea Press, 1986), p. 70
  2. Augustus B. Wylde, Modern Abyssinia (London: Methuen, 1901), p. 494
  3. Gebru Tareke, Ethiopia: Power and protest (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996), pp. 108 - 113
  4. Thomas Pakenham, The Mountains of Rasselas (New York: Reynal & Co., 1959), pp. 80f
  5. Marina and David Ottaway, Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution (New York: Africana, 1978), p. 86
  6. "Ethiopia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: 2002 report", Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US State Department (accessed 9 July 2009)
  7. CSA 2005 National Statistics, Table B.4
  8. 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Results for Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, Vol. 1, part 1, Tables 2.1, 2.12, 2.19, 3.5, 3.7, 6.3, 6.11, 6.13 (accessed 30 December 2008)

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