The rapidly expanding university city of Mekele (መቀሌ), Tigray’s capital, owes its importance to Emperor Yohannes IV, who made it his capital in the late 19th century. Though hardly anyone comes to see the town itself, there’s enough here to pass the time waiting for your Danakil tour to depart or en route between Lalibela and the north.
Mekele formerly the capital of Enderta awraja in Tigray, is today the capital city of Tigray National Regional state. It is located around 780 kilometres (480 mi) north of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, with an elevation of 2,254 metres (7,395 ft) above sea level. Administratively, Mekelle is considered a Special Zone, which is divided into seven sub-cities. Mekelle is the economic, cultural, and political hub of northern Ethiopia.
Mekelle has grown rapidly since 1991. In 1984 it had 61,583 inhabitants, in 1994, 96,938 (96.5% being Tigrinya-speakers), and in 2006 169,200 (i.e. 4% of the population of Tigray). Mekelle is 2.6 times larger than Adigrat, the second largest regional center, It is the fifth largest city in Ethiopia, after Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Adama, and Gondar. The largest proportion of the population of Mekelle depends on government employment, commerce and small-scale enterprises. Mekelle now has new engineering, cement and textile factories, producing for the local and foreign market. There is a rising university which developed out of the pre-1991 Arid Agricultural College, and about a dozen other governmental and private colleges.
Mekelle is believed to have evolved from a 13th century hamlet called Enda Meseqel (later Enda Medhane Alem), becoming a town by the early 19th century, when ras Wolde Selassie of Enderta made Antalo his seat of power, and the region of Mekelle (40 kilometres (25 mi) to the north) his recreational center). In the tax records of atse Tewodros II, Mekelle appears as a tributary district within Enderta with a negarit of its own.
The climate in this area is characterized by relatively high temperatures year-round and distinct wet and dry seasons. The Köppen type for this climate is tropical savanna climate (Aw) as all months average above 18 °C or 64.4 °F; however it borders on a humid subtropical climate (Cwa). In the area to the northeast of Mekelle, a more dry climate, the “warm semi-arid climate” (Bsh) is to be found.