Set at an altitude of around 2500m below the prominent Mount Tossa, the large, sprawling town of DESSIE (sometime spelt Dese) is an obvious place to stop overnight on the long trip between Addis Ababa, 400km to the south, and Lalibela or Mekele. It has rather amorphous feel, running for about 6km along the main northbound road, but most amenities of interest to tourists, including the more popular hotels, lie within 500m of the central roundabout sometimes referred to as the Piazza.

The town was founded by Yohannis IV after he saw a comet while encamped in the vicinity of Mount Tossa in 1882. Six years later, it became the capital of Negus Mikael of Wello, an influential Oromo prince who married the eldest daughter of Menelik II in 1893, and subsequently fathered the future Iyasu V. Much of the modern city centre dates to the Italian occupation and postwar decades, during which time Dessie grew to become the third-largest city in the empire. Development has stagnated somewhat since the 1970s, but it still supports a population approaching 200,000.

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