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Antananarivo (Tana)

Antananarivo (Tananarive), the capital of Madagascar, is located quite in the centre of this huge island and it is built on a sloppy rocky ridge of four kilometres length and a maximum 200 m altitude. With approximately 1,4 million inhabitants it is the biggest city of the country and, located at al altitude of 1.275 m also one of the highest. Madagascar´s capital image is dominated by a mass of buildings built with very little urban plans.

Antananarivo view Antananarivo market
City view from Andohalo with the
Stadium and Lake Anosy
The streets around the market are
always colourful and crowded
© Madagascar Travel Guide

Unlike most capital cities in southern Africa Antananarivo was already a major city before the colonial era. It was founded in about 1625 by King Andrianjaka and takes its name (the City of the Thousand) from the number of soldiers Andrianjaka assigned to guarding it. For a long time it was the principal village of the Hova chiefs, Antananarivo became more important as those chiefs made themselves sovereigns of the greater part of Madagascar, until it became a town of some 80,000 inhabitants. In 1793 it was made the capital of the Merina kings. The conquests of King Radama I made Antananarivo the capital of almost all of Madagascar. Until 1869 all buildings within the city proper were of wood or rushes, but even then it possessed several timber palaces of considerable size, the largest being 37 m high. These crown the summit of the central portion of the ridge; and the largest palace, with its lofty roof and towers, is the most conspicuous object from every point of view.

Since the introduction of stone and brick, the whole city has been rebuilt and now contains numerous structures of some architectural pretension, the royal palaces, the houses formerly belonging to the prime minister and nobles, the French residency, the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, several stone churches, as well as others of brick, colleges, schools, hospitals, courts of justice and other government buildings, and hundreds of good dwellings.