The administrative capital of Tigrai, MEKELE is probably Ethiopia’s fastest-growing city, its present-day population of 250,000 representing a tenfold increase since the 1970s. The city’s initial rise to prominence dates to the reign of Emperor Yohannis IV (1871–89), who had ancestral roots in the surrounding countryside and built several churches there. More recently, Mekele has been accorded a comprehensive makeover under the post-Derg government, which is dominated by Tigraians. As a result, it now has an unusually neat, grid-like appearance, and while lacking in significant tourist attractions, it does form the main fly-in gateway to the rock-hewn churches of northeast Tigrai. It’s also a good base from which to visit the Danakil.