A Rough Guide to Tigray Ethiopia

tigray debre damo

The Tigray Region is the northernmost of the nine states of Ethiopia. It is the place where the Tigrayan, Irob, and Kunama people live in large numbers. Tigray is otherwise called Region 1 in the government constitution. Tigray constitutes some of the tourist attraction locations such as Axum and Mekele.

Mekele is the capital of Tigray and is also one of the largest cities in the region. Tigray people mainly speak Tigrigna and Amharic. Tigray has 53,638 square kilometers that inhabit 8.3 million population. The majority of the place is agricultural, contributing 46% to the territorial GDP 2002/03.   The considerably less populated are swamps, 48% of Tigray land.

Today, Tigrayans number about 4.9 million and are gathered in Tigray state (Ethiopia) and Eritrea. The locales of Ethiopia and Eritrea where most Tigrayans live are high levels, isolated from the Red Sea by a slope (bluff like edge) and a desert. In great years, precipitation on the level is satisfactory for the furrow agribusiness occupied by most of Tigray. Nonetheless, when precipitation is low, the district is dependent upon unfortunate dry seasons.

Where is Tigray?

Tigray is surrounded by Eritrea toward the north, Sudan toward the west, the Amhara Region toward the south, and the Afar Region toward the east and southeast. Besides Mekelle, significant urban areas incorporate Adigrat, Aksum, Shire, Humera, Adwa, Adi Remits, Alamata, Wukro, Maychew, Sheraro, Abiy Adi, Korem, Qwiha, Atsbi, Hawzen, Mekoni,Dansha, and Zalambessa. There is likewise the truly huge town of Yeha.

What is the History of Tigray?

It is speculated that Mekelle became a town in the 19th century when Ras Wolde Selassie made it his seat of power and the region surrounding it his recreational center. Mekelle was a tributary district within Enderta, hamlet from the 13th century, with a negarit of its own.

Mekelle grew into a regional capital when Yohannes IV made it the political capital of his expanding state. He chose Mekelle for its strategic proximity to both Afar salt country and to the rich agricultural areas as well as its position on the route to Shewa, Menilik’s power base.

The major three institutions that are still important to Mekelle were founded by Yohannes IV. They are:

  1. The grand palace,
  2. The large market Edaga Senuy
  3. The church at Debre Gennet Medhane

Mekelle became the capital city of Yohannes IV in the 1880s. Mekelle’s accelerated growth was triggered by the establishments of residential quarters by nobilities and court servants, the amole salt market, and the establishments of local and foreign trading occupational. Mekelle had a strategic position of transition between long trade routes.

After the crowning of Menelik II, the trading routes of Ethiopia were moved from Mekelle to Shewa, current-day Addis Ababa. Mekelle lost its significance but it retained its political importance as an administration center and its economic role in Ethiopian salt trade.

Later, during the Italian war of 1895-1896, Mekelle became an important site in the war.

In the 20th century, there were three major events that helped sustain Mekelle’s urbanization. These were: –

  1. The arrival of Dejazmach Abreha Araya Demsu, governor of Eastern Tigray in Mekelle. He attracted various occupational groups including Muslim traders, women service vendors, and army retainers
  2. The Italian occupation between 1936 to 1941. They contributed to the modernization of Mekelle. 
  3. The urban development of Mekelle during 1942-74. Modern urban sectors were diversified, and new administrative offices were established. The Mekelle municipality (founded 1942), telecommunications and post office, Commercial Bank, and the atse Yohannes Elementary (in 1952) and Secondary School (in 1960) were established.

During the 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia, Mekelle was known for the seven “hunger camps” around the city. These housed around 75,000 refugees.

Geography & Demography

Mekelle lies at an elevation of 2,254 meters above sea level, close to the edge of the northern portion of the Ethiopian Rift Valley, on a Jurassic limestone plateau, in a semi-arid area with a mean annual rainfall of 714 millimeters (28.1 in). 

Mekelle is divided into seven local administrations: Hawelti, Adi-Haki, Kedamay Weyane, Hadnet, Ayder, Semien and Quiha. Within each local administration, there are kebeles or ketenas. The sub-cities of Mekelle comprise the area formerly incorporated as Mekelle City.

The climate in this area is characterized by relatively high temperatures year-round and distinct wet and dry seasons.

1994 national census reported the population of Mekelle as 96,938 people (45,729 men and 51,209 women). Mekelle had a total population of 215,914 people (104,925 men and 110,989 women) in 2007.

Mekelle city served as the administrative or capital city of Ethiopia from 1872 to 1889 and afterward for many administrators of the region as well as for the current administrative system.

It is one of the country’s principal economic and educational centers. Presently, there are rapid and expanding socio-economic developments such as infrastructural development, universities, and colleges, firms, hospitals, schools, electric, water supply, telecommunication services, etc. Most of the populations of the city depend on trade, micro, and small scale institutions, public service, agriculture and etc.

tigray debre damo
“Mosteiro de Debre Damo, Etiópia” by Samuel Santos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Sights & Landmarks: What Should I visit in Tigray?

The known Ethiopia history begins with an enticing historic leftover of Yeha – a civilization thousands of years ago. Yeha resides a few hours’ drives from the more open city of Axum, the excursion takes you on unpleasant tracks through an emotional good country view and in the long run finishes in lovely and tranquil agrarian villages.

It is there, near a substantially more ongoing Christian church, that you may see the transcending remains of Yeha Temple of the Moon – assembled over 2,500 years back, in Sabaean times. Tigray contains the center of the antiquated Aksumite realm and the noteworthy settlements of Aksum, the realm’s capital; Yeha, a demolished town of the extraordinary relic; and Adwa, the site of a fight in 1896 where the Italian attacking power was vanquished.

The sanctuary is an overwhelming rectangular building. Although it lost its rooftop and upper stories, the remains stand somewhere in the range of twelve meters in stature. As night falls, the sanctuary’s finely dressed and cleaned limestone mirrors the sparkle of the setting sun with a glow and splendor that can’t be unplanned. The gigantic, unequivocally fitted squares from which the internal slanting dividers are framed appear to tolerate out antiquated feeling that Sabaean structures could be loaded up with water without a solitary drop being lost.

Aside from the sanctuary, in any case – which talks articulately of crafted by a high civilization – little or nothing is thought about the individuals who fabricated this incredible building. To be sure, their starting points are enclosed by a secret of which, maybe, the best is this: if a culture had advanced to the degree of modernity required to construct landmarks of such quality in the good countries of Tigray by the 6th C.

Although vegetation is scanty, a large portion of Tigray’s populace is occupied with horticulture (oats, vegetables, espresso, and cotton) and stock raising. Stows away and skins are significant fares. Salt and potash from desert stores are additionally traded. The district, which has for some time been home to the Tigray individuals, likewise underpins the Raya, Azebo, Afar, and Agau people groups.

The realm of Axum (Tigray) kept going from the first to the eighth hundreds of years AD. Situated at the intersection of three lands, Africa, Arabia, and the Mediterranean. It was the most remarkable civilization among the Roman realm and Persia and it was the principal state to once in the past embrace Christianity around 325 AD. It likewise quickly allowed refuge to a portion of the early devotees of Mohammed in the seventh century. Remains of royal residences, structures, and tombs spread a wide region in the Tigray Plateau, the most noteworthy being the Axum, Ethiopia stelae, or monoliths at the stelae field of present-day Axum. A few stelae date between the third and fourth hundreds of years AD.

The pillars mark the area of the core of antiquated Ethiopia when the realm of Axum was the most impressive state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. In any case, these world legacies are said to be under a basic condition for the most recent two years.  

The Monument to the War

The tower spirals more than 100 feet above the ground, mounted by a large ball. It is visible through much of Mekelle. The memorial stretches on both sides of the central tower. On each side are figures, representing the victims and victors of the war. The figures include mothers and children trekking out from the famine, several of them not making it. With them are the Tigrayan fighters, machine guns over their backs, and trusty donkeys in tow. 

one of the tanks left over from the war lies just beside the monument. Mekelle was only captured from the Derg in 1989, yet the monument is the only visible reminder of the devastation of the time.

Yohannes Castle

The Castle is the major attraction point in Mekelle.

Ayder School

Ayder is the school that was bombed by the Eritreans at the outset of the war. The war broke out in May 1998, and the school was bombed on June 5th.

The school sits in an ordinary poor residential district of Mekelle. A clumsy fence surrounds the school, and the gate is marked by a simple sign.

Today most of these areas in Tigray are tourist attractions and Axum town is a registered UNESCO destination.

How Can I Communicate in Tigray?

The Tigray language is classified in the Semitic group of dialects and is identified with Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Toward the north of the Tigrinya speakers’ live individuals who communicate in the firmly related language known as Tigre. Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, is so firmly identified with Tigrinya that most Tigray has little trouble imparting in Amharic. Tigrinya, Amharic, and the old strict language Geez are composed of a similar letter set. Huge numbers of the letters utilized recorded as a hard copy of these dialects are gotten from old Greek.

There are many people who speak Italian and English in Tigray. The Italian language has been popular among the senior population who had experience with the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in the 40s. English is another popular language. Most students have English classes at school. Although usually poor, you can still ask directions, and get information.

tigray people
“i20141129_170158b” by KrisFricke is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

What Is every day of the Tigray People?

Following European missionaries, Christianity became a religion of north Ethiopia, including in Tigray. The realm focused on Axum and Adowa was a piece of the Mediterranean world in which Christianity developed. The appearance of Christianity in Tigrayan lands occurred about a similar time that it showed up in Ireland.

Some say that the Tigrayans already received Christianity several years prior to the majority of Europe accepted the religion. Numerous Tigrayan places of worship were cut into precipices or from single squares of stone, as they were in Turkey and in parts of Greece, where Christianity had existed from its most punctual years. The congregation is a focal element of networks and of every family’s day by day life. Every people group has a congregation with a consecrated leader individual.

Most Tigray occasions are related to the congregation schedule Easter, Epiphany, and so on. The common occasions incorporate Ethiopian or Eritrean national occasions.

A baby is perceived as an individual from the network in a naming service held forty days after birth for young men, and eighty days after birth for young ladies.   

At about the age of twelve, kids come to the “period of reason” and assume on greater liability, for example, helping care for more youthful siblings and sisters and for grouping livestock. Additionally, at about this age, kids are purified through water and enter the network of religion.

With adulthood comes new duties. One of the indications of adulthood is citizenship; that is, participation at town gatherings after chapel on Sunday mornings. Different signs are marriage and turning into an elder.

Tigrinya utilizes a detailed arrangement of welcome to show respect, the closeness of the relationship, and sexual orientation. There are ten individual pronouns individuals use to address each other. The decision of welcome is significant in setting up and keeping up great relations. When meeting a more peculiar whom one adjudicator may merit some unique regard, one may choose to address him with khamihaduru (How are you, my respected equivalent?). Subsequent to discovering that an outsider is expected a lot of regards, one may address him with khamihadirom (How are you, my respected prevalent?).

Most Tigray names have explicit implications. By and large, individuals allude to each other by their first names. On the off chance that one wished to recognize a few people with that name, one would include the individual’s dad’s name. Abraha, for instance, becomes Abraha Gebre Giyorgis, meaning, Abraha is the offspring of Gebre Giyorgis.

In the event that a further qualification must be made, the granddad’s name could be included, for instance, Abraha-Gebre Giyorgis-Welede Mariyam. People’s names adhere to similar standards, with the special case that new spouses are regularly given new names by their relatives when they initially go to live with the husband’s family. This applies just to the primary name continue as before.


For provincial Tigray, there is no dating in the Western sense. Articulations of sentimental enthusiasm between two individuals are not shown by the couple going out together. Rather, guardians of both make an understanding of a joining between the two families, and marriage happens. Guardians, for the most part, consider the interests of their kid. On the off chance that an individual gets separated, the person in question may date before going into a subsequent marriage.

What Is the Living Condition in Tigray?

 Higher Education

With over 20,000 students, Mekelle University has outstanding standards of education, teaching, research, and consultancy.

The Mekelle Institute of Technology is Ethiopia’s elite university for Computer Science and Electronics. Mekelle also hosts several high-quality private colleges and reputed TVET centers. 


Mekelle provides an attractive environment for investors in agro-processing and manufacturing. Textile and leather sectors are appealing and its metal cluster is expanding. Agro-processing is growing at a remarkable rate. Poultry, animal husbandry, and related value chains are on the rise, and opportunities exist in cash-crops and food-processing. Additionally, the industrial production of animal food and beverages, as well as the processing of honey, meat, and dairy products, has immense potential.

A cement factory and a multitude of small enterprises produce construction materials for Tigray and its neighbors. Finally, the cobblestone trade offers business opportunities, since the city is dedicated to paving all its roads.

Urban Expansion

The land policy infringes on property rights; is a symbol of injustice; endangers food security and could be a culprit of unsustainable development and environmental degradation.

In some areas of Mekelle and Enderta, the GOT is providing as low as three birr per sqm (square meter), while selling it to the highest bidder for as high as thirty thousand birr per sqm.

Most of the land that is being arbitrarily seized by the GOT is fertile farmland which has been a source of food for farmers and their families living on subsistence farming.

Although the current Mekelle population is unknown, a sharp increase in the number of its urban residents is quite visible.

Yet, Mekelle is a city with poor infrastructure; suffers from a chronic scarcity of water; has very poor waste management and sewage system; narrow roads, and parking spaces, which make vehicle and pedestrian movement a challenge.

If allowed to continue, this trend would put the city and its residents in a very precarious position.

While the value of factories in creating jobs; producing goods that help reduce imports and saving hard currency; producing export materials thereby earning hard currency is undeniable, it’s not being done in a way that minimizes adverse environmental impacts.

tigray landscape
“Igreja de Abuna Yemata Guh, Tigray, Etiopia” by Samuel Santos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

What Is the Clothing Culture of Tigray?

Conventional Tigray apparel is white, which is viewed as Christian, with little embellishment. For dressy events and church, ladies wear lower leg length dresses with long sleeves made of fine material. Men wear lower leg length pants that are tight from the knee to the lower leg and loose in the upper legs and hips.

A fitted, long-sleeved shirt covers the chest area. The shirt reaches out to simply over the knee for laymen and to simply underneath the knee for clerics and elders. The two people wear a Gabbi (shawl or frock) hung around the shoulders. For some of Tigray, utilized attire imported from Europe has substituted customary apparel for everyday wear.


Presumably, the most significant reality about nourishment in Tigray is that it isn’t sufficient of it. Families must make up for nourishment shortfalls with government appropriations.

In Tigray, bread is one of the fundamental nourishments. Two of the more typical assortments are a slender, hotcake like bread favored by a great many people, and a thick, plate moulded portion of heated entire wheat bread. Flapjacks are 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) in measurement and are produced using numerous sorts of oat grains (wheat, grain, and so on.). An assortment of Tsebhi is eaten with the bread.

Families and visitors typically eat from a Messob (shared nourishment bushel), with every individual eating from the side closest to them and plunging it into a stew in the focal point of the container.

What is the Cultural Heritage of the Tigray?

There are two fundamental classifications of music: church music and acclaim melodies. Elders sing and go with the melody with drums and a sistrum (a clatter like an instrument) as a major aspect of the mass.

Recognition artists structure a sort of tribe. Groups of commendation vocalists intermarry with different groups of applause artists. Artists go with themselves with a one-stringed instrument that is similar to a violin. Has frequently contract artists to engage at parties, for example, weddings. Visitors offer tips to the entertainers to sing, frequently cleverly, about their companions.

Entries from the Book of Psalms are as often as possible brought into conversations of individuals’ conduct. Numerous ministers and elders convey the hymns Dawit (for King David) in a calfskin pocket.

Qene is a respected type of verse known for its utilization of twofold implications, delightful language, and intelligence. A couple of lines ought to have surface importance and a more profound one. Qene is designated “wax and gold,” a similarity that alludes to the way toward throwing gold articles in wax molds squeezed into the sand. In qene, the audience “hears the wax” and should utilize thought to locate the gold inside. Tigray lords and rulers are regularly associated with their qene pieces.

What Crafts and Hobbies the Tigray Has?

Probably the most terrific Tigray workmanship is related to the congregation. Tigray holy places are well known for their engineering, with many cuts into strong stone. The bigger holy places use configuration highlights of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Symbol painting—the formation of pictures of holy individuals—is another work of art-related to the congregation. A few elders who have learned at Debri (religious communities) return as symbol painters. Symbols are bought by people to fortify a relationship with a specific holy person.

Tigray Today

There has been a boom in hotel services for tourism and conferences due to the predominant place Mekelle holds in northern Ethiopia. The development of healthcare services has greatly aided in improving the quality of life of Mekelle’s inhabitants. A $3.5 million modern referral public health laboratory was constructed by the US CDC to serve as a training site as well as providing quality assurance for Tigray’s hospitals and medical laboratories.

It is one of the country’s principal economic and educational centers. Presently, there are rapid and expanding socio-economic developments such as infrastructural development, universities, and colleges, firms, hospitals, schools, electric city, water supply, telecommunication services, etc. Most of the populations of the city depend on trade, micro, and small-scale institutions, public service, agriculture and etc.

Mekelle offers unique and enormous tourism resources though not able to use them to the maximum level owing to so many drawbacks. Additionally, the destination service delivered is not enough for visitor’s good experiences.


In conclusion, Mekelle is one of the major cities in Ethiopia that contribute to the economic growth of the country. Mekelle has various tourist attraction points, well-developed universities and schools, various trading and industrial areas.

Mekelle has a very strong hold on the history of Ethiopia from the very beginning. It is a city that has been the center of development for Ethiopia for a long period of time. But the current urbanization of the city is unsustainable and thus will result in a chaotic disturbance for its surrounding as well as for itself in the near future.

Cover: “Igreja de Abuna Yemata Guh, Tigray, Etiopia” by Samuel Santos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

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