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The surroundings of Antananarivo

  • Tana´s countryside

A trip to Tana´s countryside offers a view of people life, preserved during centuries. Depending on the time of the year, visitors can witness the rice harvest, natural silk weaving and jewel manufacturing. From May to September ovens for clay- brick baking are working. With some luck resting peasants might invite you to sit with them. Take advantage of their hospitality to learn a lot about Malagasy traditional life.

  • Ambatofotsy

This is certainly one of the most picturesque towns near Antananarivo. The fortified village with its ancient houses, churches, and "tamboho" (steep slopes used to delimit properties), which are among the most famous of the Imerina Kingdom and the friendliness of its inhabitants make a sort of welcoming rural charm after the hazardous trip to the capital.

  • Croc Farm
BP 563 Ambohipanasiana
Ivato aéroport
Tel:+ 261 20 22 239 10
Open from 9  to 5 pm

This private breeding farm located just three kilometres from the Ivato airport is a home to 100 crocodiles. There are also some ostrich, lemurs and snakes! A restaurant offers crocodile specialties.
Madagascar crocodile
   © Madagascar Travel Guide
  • Lemurs´Park
BP 3979
101 Antananarivo
Tel: + 261 20 22 234 36
Mobile: + 261 33 11 728 90
Web: www.lemurspark.com
Email: lemurspark@moov.mg
Entrance: 20,000 Ar (2013)

This park was created in 2001 by two French and two Japanese fond of Madagascar fauna  who try hard to protect endangered lemur species and its habitat. The protected area, located 22 km west of Antananarivo on the road to Arivonimamo to the RN 1  comprises 5 ha and it is home to 7 different lemur species, as well as radiated tortoises, chameleons and endemic birds. They. The park also has a botanical garden with plants from all over Madagascar. A restaurant invites you to relax.

  • Imerina

The region of the twelve holy hills around Antananarivo, core of the extinguished Merina Kingdom, is known as Imerina. A trip to the twelve holy hills (the number twelve is seeing as magic as it represents the number of unity) is not just a mere journey back into the past history of Madagascar, but also a journey into a fascinating rural world of tiny villages, which has been maintained almost unchanged for centuries. Every single hill was once the residence of a king, though most of them were abandoned soon after the king´s death, when his descendents decided to move their residence elsewhere. Some hills still preserve royal palaces with their huge, red clay walls (tambohotany). These historical hills have now become a tourist attraction, a welcoming fact since tourism can contribute to the conservation of many historical monuments, which would otherwise be soon forget. The well-preserved palace complex of Ambohimanga, which was declared 2001 to belong to the World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, is one of the most preferred hills among visitors. But even the small Antsahadinta hill with its small museum, 17 km southwest of Antananarivo, is well worth a visit.

  • Alasora

Located 6 km southeast of Antananarivo Alasora is originally a royal complex dating from the 16th century, when it was founded by king Andriamanelo, who ruled here from 1540 until 1575. His son Ralambo retained Alasora as his capital. But not his grandson, who moved to the today´s capital as it conquered the "Blue Hills" by Antananarivo. Till the end of the 18th century Alasora remained the residence of Ramanantenasoa, one of the twelve wives of Andrianampoinimerina. The defence installations and some of tombs can still be visited.

Merina village
 Typical merina village in the highlands © Madagascar Travel Guide 
  • Ambatomanga ("the blue rock")

This small village 50 km east of Tana is famous by its rock, which has turned to be a popular spot for climbers. To access the summit of the rock follow the stairs that begin at the front of the church. From the top you can admire the nice view of the whole village and the impressive landscape. The tomb of prince Andriantoaravola is also here.

  • Ambohidrabiby

The city town and kingdom of Ambohidrabiby were founded around 1600 by King Ralambo (whose name means "wild boar") from Alasora. The village is situated on a hill about 30 km north of Antananarivo, not far from Ambohimanga, and is easily accessible. Ralambo is known to be the first king introducing beef in the Malagasy diet at a time that the meat of wild cattle was supposed to be unhealthy (he had wild cattle be domesticated before!) He was also one of the first Malagasy kings using rifles. His grave, that of his grandfather and that of one of the twelve wives of Andrianampoinimerina can still be visited. The old palace has not been preserved.

A visit to Ambohidrabiby would not be complete without walking around the neighboring typical small villages of the central highlands as Ambohimasina, Ambatomahamanina, Ampahidralambo and of course the magical village Zanakandriandoria, with its beautiful houses. These places can be reached in a 3 to 4 hour visit. Even the royal hill of Ambohimanga is only 2 km from Ambohidrabiby away.

  • Ambohidratrimo

Ambohidratrimo is one of the 12 sacred hills surrounding Tana (to the North) and has a historical interest, as well very nice panoramic view over the plains. This was also the capital of the Marovatana Kingdom. Its king, called Ratrimo, reigned here before the annexion of the territory by King Andrianampoinimerina.

The Rova can be easily accessed through a paved road. The royal house was built according to the traditional rules of that time: huge pillars (tree trunks) supported the wooden roof, covered with stubble. The royal bed was located at a considerable altitude. Unfortunately, this construction has completely disappeared today, only the royal tombs being regularly maintained. Here, a stone pillar where two breasts symbolizing fertility are carved, is worshipped by women wishing to become pregnant.

  • Ambohimalaza

Amohimalaza is located east of Antananarivo and has some graves of the Malagasy Aristocracy. The tomb buildings are equipped with small wooden houses containing grave goods.

  • Ambohimanambola

10 km to the east of Antananarivo, this place was famous for containing the twelve royal talismans. After her conversion to Christianity Queen Ranavalona II let these talismans burnt on 8 September 1869.

  • Ambohimanga

Open from 8 am to 11 am and from 2 pm to 5 pm
Entrance 15,000 Ar (guided tour is included)
Access by taxi or taxi brousse (from the eastern taxi-brousse station in Tana).

Ambohimanga Rova
Ambohimanga Rova
© Olivier Lejade

Located some 21 kilometres northeast of the capital the World Heritage spot of Ambohimanga consists of a royal city and burial site, and an ensemble of sacred places. The city remained forbiden to foreigners up until 1895, a date which corresponds to the beginning of the French Governorship over Madagascar. To enter the village, you have to come through a very ancient gate, which, once upon a time, used to be blocked by a gigantic round stone. This stone rolled in a furrow dug in the ground until the entrance was totally blocked. This gate is called Ambavahaditsiomby which in Malagasy translates “where even a zebu can’t come through”.

Ambohimanga has its roots in the 16th century, according to historians, or in the 14th century, according to oral traditions. Historically as King Andriamasinavalona shared his kingdom in 1710 among his four sons, Ambohimanga, the "blue hill" became the capital of one of them becoming one of many rivalling chieftaincies in the central plateau of the island, which during the 17th century slowly gained in local importance and power. In 1780s a local ruler named In Andrianimpoinimerina began to consolidate neighbouring territories in the high plateau country. His gradual rise to power led to the formation of the Kingdom of Imerina, which introduced a unique modernisation process in Madagascar in the late 19th century, even intending on industrialisation. With the baptism of Queen Ranavalona II in 1869, Christianity was made the state religion. Obligatory school attendance was introduced in 1880, earlier than in most European countries. The last royal Malagasy Head of State was Queen Ranavalona III, exiled by the French in 1897.

The traditional design, materials, and layout of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga are representative of the social and political structure of Malagasy society from at least the 16th century. Ambohimanga is also associated with strong feelings of national identity, and has maintained its spiritual and sacred character both in ritual practice and the popular imagination for the past 500 years. It remains a place of worship to which pilgrims come from Madagascar and elsewhere.

Ambohimanga is the most sacred of the twelve (sacred) hills that surround Antananarivo. Here there is a historic museum and the ancient royal swimming pool. The royal burial sites are located on other two hills, Ambohidratrimo and Antsahadinta. These tombs still play an important religious role in Madagascar, where the belief in the power of the ancestors is a key element in any religious practice, including Christianity, Islam or traditional religions. The royal burial sites therefore remain sacred.

The city is a fort surrounded by some 10-odd kilometer-labyrinth of moats with seven enormous stone gates. One of the best preserved ones is the Ambatomitsangana gate, flanked by a huge stone disc of 40 m of  diameter and about 12 tons of weight, which could only be moved withthe combined efforts of twenty soldiers.

In the heart of the city lies the Rova, named Mahandry Rova, which is surrounded by a high wall that was erected in 1847 at the request of Ranavalona I. According to an old construction technique, the stones are attached with a mixture of lime and egg whites.

In the Rova we find which two royal dwellings. The most important is the residence of King Andrianampoinimerina. Here visitors can admire some personal belongings of the King as weapons, porteries, conques drum, talismans – and also the huge bed in which he received in turn twelve wives.

The building called Nanjaka in the royal complex is the former Rova, which was destroyed by the explosion powder barrels on the burial day of Ranavalona I.

The summer residence of Ranavalona II and the Trano Fitaratra are two rosewood buildings connected by a baluster. The first building houses a courtroom and a large living room on the ground floor and the chamber of the queen on the first floor. The second building, called Trano Fitaratra ("glass house"), served for the meetings between the Queen met and the Council of Ministers. The windows were imported from Europe in 1862.

Monarchs published their edicts and rendered justice on the small courtyard at the end of the road that climbs to the Rova. Celebrations and feasts were held at the Fidasiana esplanade, at the foot of Rova.
Sacred tree used in some rituals
© Olivier Lejade

On the top of the Rova, two sacred pools carved in the rock were used as bathtubs by Andrianampoinimerina and Ranavalona I. The water was obtained from the sacred lake of Amparihy (north of the village) and was renewed daily.

The Ambatomiantendro rock used to be a landmark to locate Ambohimanga from afar. Here visitors may still see pilgrims asking for blessings, as King Andrianampoinimerina was reported to play Fanorona (a Malagasy gameboard) here. Indeed, you might still recognise the grids of this game the king used to play carved in the stone. Witnessing a sunset onto the plains covered by rice fields is an awesome experience.

  • Ambohotany

Ambohotany lies a few kilometres north of Antananarivo on the road to Ambohimanga and is an old city with a royal tomb. Here you will find the finest clay wallsin the area.

  • Ampandrana

This place south of Antananarivo was one of the first Merina settlements in the highlands and the royal residence of king  Andriampandrana, who reigned here from 1400 to 1420. His two successors Andriamasindohafandrana (1440 - 1460) and Andriampandramanenitra, father of Queen Rangita, kept their residence in the town.

  • Antongona

This hill at the Imerintsiatosika village (where toy cars made of tin are made) about 30 km west of Antananarivo is one of the oldest Merina settlements. A small royal Rova is composed three buildings and a wall around it. 

  • Antsahadinta

17 km southwest of Antananarivo we find this pleasant little village that was the residence of King Andriamangarira in the 18th century and later of Rabodozafimanjaka, one of the 12 wives of King Andrianampoinimerina. Located on a mountain summit, the town, dominated by the rice terraces and some huge ficus, still preserves some old traditional wooden houses and a clay wall. Visitors can find a small museum next to the royal tombs and the church from 1868 which houses a particular fine collection of daily use items of the 19th century.

  • Ilafy

Open from 9 am to 12 am and from 2 pm to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)
After passing Ambohimanga, ca. 30 km north of Antananarivo, we find the Ilafy hill, formerly known as Ambohitrakanga. Here there is the old royal palace of King Andrianjafy, which dates from the 18th century. This village was well known for its vineyards. From Ilafy visitors enjoy a superb view of Antananarivo and its surroundings. Today you can still visit the old wooden palace building built by king Radama II to amuse himself with his friends. Ilafy was also one of the first towns to develop industry in Madagascar.

  • Imerimanjaka

This place is located just 10 km southeast of Antananarivo and it was during the 16th century the royal residence of Queen Rafohy and her daughter Rangita. Both queens belonged to the tribe of Vazimba and are considered ancestors of the legendary Merina kings. In fact their  tombs are still revered as a holy place.

  • Kaloy

The fortified village of Kaloy, 60 km northeast of Antananarivo, was the birthplace of the great King Andrianampoinimerina though it was abandoned long time ago. The access roads are in poor condition (approximately 3 hours from Antananarivo) and the last stretch of the road must be completed on foot.