Mek'ele is one of Ethiopia's principal economic and educational centers. A new international standard airport, Alula Aba Nega Airport (ICAO 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 TPLF (Tigrayan People's Liberation Front) 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. 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 GabirEnda Yesus Mek'ele Bete Mengist, Mek'ele Iyesus Bete Kristiyan, Mek'ele Maryam Bete Kristiyan, Mek'ele Selassie Bete Kristiyan, and Mek'ele Tekle Haymanot Bete Kristiyan. Trans Ethiopia is the local soccer team. A local market has been held every Monday since at least 1890.
Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2005, Mekele has an estimated total population of 169,207, of whom 85,876 were males and 83,331 were females. The woreda has an estimated area of 24.44 square kilometers, which gives Mekele a density of 6,923.40 people per square kilometer. The 1994 census reported this city had a total population of 96,938 of whom 45,729 were males and 51,209 were females. Mekele is the largest city in northern Ethiopia and sixth largest in Ethiopia.
During the First Italo-Abyssinian War, the Italians occupied Mek'ele from the beginning of the war (late 1895) until they surrendered their half-completed fort built on the graveyard of the church of Inda Iyesus in January 1896. The telegraph line the Italians constructed between 1902 and 1904 from Asmara south to Addis Ababa passed through the town, giving it a local telegraph office.
During the Woyane rebellion Mek'ele was held by the rebels following their capture of Qwiha on the main Asmera - Addis Ababa 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, which housed 75,000 refugees with 20,000 more waiting to enter. During March 1985, 50-60 people died in those camps every day. In February 1986, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (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 Maychew, Korem 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. It was not until 25 February 1989 that Mek'ele was also occupied by the TPLF, after the government position in Tigray had collapsed.