From Ethiopia, we flew for just under 5 hours to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. Madagascar sits off the coast of East Africa and has frequently been considered the 8th continent of the world because there are many species of animals and plants endemic to Madagascar. In fact, over 90% of its wildlife is found only here. This happened because Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula 88 million years ago creating an isolated environment for animals and plants to evolve. Most people immediately think of the lemurs and the giant baobab trees when thinking of Madagascar, but there are many more creatures and plants you have never even heard of. Unfortunately, like everywhere else on our planet, the biodiversity here is in danger. Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world and I simply did not have enough time to see everything. I chose to visit the most signature destinations which include the lemurs in the national parks of Andasibe and the baobabs in Morondava. The rest will have to be done on another trip.
Madagascar was a monarchy until colonized by the French in 1897. It remained so until gaining independence in 1960. It is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world that still suffers from the bubonic plague every year. Antananarivo, also known as Tana, is the capital and largest city of Madagascar. It was founded in 1610 when King Andrianjaka of the Kingdom of Imerina took over the village of Analamanga where he built his royal palace. Like what we did in Ethiopia, we based ourselves in Tana at the relatively new boutique hotel, Grand Hotel Urban, where we left the bulk of our luggage and made short trips within the country. We were very pleased with this hotel. The rooms were modern and the food at the restaurant was very good. Most tourists prefer to bypass the pollution, dirt, and dreadful traffic of the capital, but the flight system, like in other places in Africa, is not too well developed and most flights do not connect with each other. As a result, overnight stays in Tana are unavoidable.
Tana is divided into the upper and lower towns with all the important monuments and nicer neighborhoods concentrated in the upper town or Haute-Ville. The Rova of Antananarivo is a fortified palace complex built on the highest point on Analamaga. This became the place where Merina kings ruled until the fall of the monarchy in 1896. It began with 3 buildings and at its peak had 20 before reducing back to 11. The most important building here is Le Palace de la Reine or Queen’s Palace after Queen Ranavalona I in 1839. It was originally built entirely of wood and in 1867 was encased in stone by Queen Ranavolona II. Unfortunately the entire complex was burned down in 1995 and is still under restoration. On the grounds are royal tombs, a Protestant stone chapel, a cross shaped private residence of Queen Rasoherina and traditional wooden houses of Imerina’s nobles. Not far is the Musee Andafivaratra, housed in a pink baroque palace that was the former home of the Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony. Rainilaiarivony retained his power as the longest serving prime minister by marrying three consecutive queens: Rasoherina, Ranavalona II and Ranavalona III.
Above first row, from left to right: Andrianampoinimerina (ruler of the Kingdom of Imerina); Radama I (son of Andrianampoinimerina and first recognized King of Madagascar); Ranavalona I (succeeding her husband Radama I); Radama II (son and heir of Queen Ranavalona I). Second row: Rasoherina (succeeding her husband Radama II); Ranavalona II (succeeding her first cousin Queen Rasoherina). Third row: Ranavalona III (last sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar); Rainilaiarivony (Prime Minister of Madagascar who was married to Rasoherina, Ranavalona II, and Ranavalona III).
About 24km (or 1.5-hour drive) northeast of Antananrivo is Ambohimanga which is a traditional rova or fortified royal settlement listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Not only is it the best preserved monument of the Merina Kingdom, it is also one of the the twelve sacred hills of Imerina and still a place of worship for the many pilgrims. It was the political capital during the reign of Andriantsimitoviaminandriana from 1740 to 1745, later becoming the summer palace of the royal family. King Andriamasinavalona (1675-1710) divided the Kingdom of Imerina into 4 sections with his son Andriantsimitoviaminandriana governing from Avaradrano’s capital Ambohimanga. This led to 77 years of civil war between the four sons before finally ending in 1793 with the country reunited by King Andrianampoinimerina (great great grandson of Andriamsinavalona). The capital was then moved back to Antananaviro with Ambohimanga remaining the spiritual capital. A traditional rova could only be established by a noble and it must be built higher than the surrounding buildings outside the city walls. Inside there is at least one royal palace, royal tombs, and a courtyard marked by a sacred stone from which the king made his royal speeches. All the homes of the living were constructed in wood (a living material) whereas tombs were constructed in stone (an inert material). The royal tombs were constructed with a stone crypt topped by a small wooden house. The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is fortified by a series of stone walls and ditches with the 14 entrances sealed by large stone discs that take 20 soldiers to move. The city consists of palaces, royal burial sites, and places of worship. It is subdivided into three smaller rova with Mahandrihono being the largest, established between 1710 to 1730 by King Andriambelomasina (adopted son of Andriantsimitoviaminiandriana). Here lie many royal tombs, the house of King Andrianampoinimerina, the summer palace of Queen Ranavalona II, the royal bath, and the sacrificial zebu pen. Palace of the King showed how undesirable it was to be a ruler in those times. The palace was only a basic single room where the King actually cooked his own food afraid of being poisoned. His bed was on a platform reached by a ladder to protect against being assassinated while he slept, and he spied and eavesdropped on his visitors by hiding in a stash half the height to the roof. His son, probably less careful, was assassinated by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony who also married his wife and successive queens to wield power. We were asked to enter the main house by stepping in with our right foot first and exiting backwards with our left foot first to show respect for the spirit of Andrianampoinimerina. The other two smaller rova are Bevato established by Andriamborona and Nanjakana established by Andrianjafy but no original buildings remain within. At one point under the rule of Queen Ranavalona I, the city was forbidden to visiting foreigners lending the name “forbidden city”. Under French colonialism, the relics were moved on purpose from Ambohimanga to Antananaviro to break the spirit of resistance and cultural and ethnic identity they inspired in the Malagasy people. Ambohimanga is worth a visit as it is a window into the daily lives of the royal family as well as Malagasy history and customs.
Next post will be on one of the highlights of Madagascar and what most people come here to see: the lemurs in Andasibe. 😊 Stay tuned!
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