Madagascar – What to see in the capital of the island?

The fourth largest island of the globe – Madagascar – is unique in every way. This is a huge island what makes it very hard to visit it all. It is definitely better to visit fewer places but calmly be able to fully appreciate them with no rush. What attractions await for you in the capital of Madagascar?

Antananarivo (commonly known as Tana) is a large, loud, crowded city, picturesquely situated on the hills. Although the years of the splendour of French colonial-style architecture have passed, many buildings delight the tourists and remind the rich times of the capital. However,on the way from the airport to the centre of the capital, one can quickly notice the ubiquitous poverty. Most residents still do not have access to running water, so it is very common to see in the city centre  many people walking with yellow canisters to carry water. A tourist in Tana attracts the attention of beggars, merchants or pick pocketers, there is not much of a chance for a quiet walk on the streets. However, the Isorak district where I have stayed and the neighbouring Antaninarenina are very pleasant places, where we found very nice restaurants, affordable and well-equipped hotels and local handicraft shops.

The Queen’s Palace

The main attraction of Tana is the Queen’s Palace, called Rova, located on the hill looking over the city. Mostly it is a wooden building, constructed in the nineteenth century, burned down almost completely in 1995. It was rebuilt ten years later (mainly from UNESCO funds, because it was supposed to be listed on the World Heritage List just before the fire). As a result of the coup in 2009 works ceased. So far, the palace itself is inaccessible, but the surrounding area is already open to the public. From the top of the hill on which Rova is located, one can admire a beautiful panorama of Tana. For a small fee, a local guide tells us about the interesting history of this place.

Holy hills

According to legend, the king of Andrianjak (ruling from 1610 or 1612 to 1630) declared that the 12 hills surrounding Tana are sacred because of their political, historical or spiritual significance. More than 100 years later, the great king of Andrianampoinimerina (1745-1810), who united the tribes of Madagascar in the 1890s, repeated this declaration, though it concerned more than twelve other hills. However, this number is of great importance in Malagasy cosmology, and therefore the term Twelve Holy Hills of Imerin is used conventionally. It is worth visiting the most famous of them that entered in 2001 the list of UNESCO – Royal Mount Ambohimanga. It is a fortified palace complex of the kings of Madagascar, located about 23 km north of Tana. It occupies an extremely important place in the history and national consciousness of Malagasy. It is very common to explore the hill with well-prepared guides who speak good English. In the interiors of the palace it is forbidden to take pictures.  This is because it is considered a fad, a taboo (one of the most interesting aspects of Malagasy culture), but both the complex itself and the magnificent views stretching from its walls can be photographed without limitations.

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