Located in the center of Madagascar, Antananarivo or Tananarive is the capital of the big island. This often neglected city by travelers however hides many historical treasures and important cultural charm.
Antananarivo was once called "Vohitsara" or "city of beauty". Before the founding of the Merina kingdom, Antananarivo had about twenty sacred hills. In 1610, the conquest of "Analamanga" or blue forest, by the first king Merina (King Andrianjaka), accompanied by his thousand warriors gave as inheritance the current name of the city of Antananarivo, which means the city of the thousand . At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the city took advantage of its new status as the capital of the country and began to extend towards the plain. In 1960, Antananarivo naturally became the capital of the Malagasy Republic following the proclamation of the Independence of Madagascar. The old town hall in Analakely was the victim of a fire during the revolution of medical students during the second republic. It was rebuilt in 2009 in the form of a large modern building and became the seat of the Urban Commune of Antananarivo.
The perfect ignorance of Madagascar's capital often grows wrongly travelers to quickly flee the city. Yet Antananarivo is a city that is full of historical treasures, cultural and architectural invaluable. Like a fortress, it takes the form of a pyramid, and is built around its narrow streets, picturesque quarters and markets. The old town at the top of the hill and the low town built on the plain with some rice fields, lakes and marshes are connected by "totoha-bato" or stone stairs. The European missionaries and entrepreneurs have imbued their talents with the building and shaped the city which is revealed through the narrow facades of brick houses in ocher-red colors. You will find there without difficulty the imposing religious buildings, the colonial houses formerly inhabited by the nobles during the colonization, the arcades of the Avenue of Independence, the station of Soarano with its clocks of manufacture of Lyon, the building of the Hotel des Louvre of Eifel construction, … And at the summit the Rova "Manjakamiadana" (reigns in the serenity) built by Jean Laborde. Like a capital in the countryside, Tana is as poetic as bucolic with countless secrets of history to discover. You will also find traditional houses made of wood or mud, as well as earthen tamboho.
The Upper Town
It is true that Tananarive is far from the cliché of the tropical city where it is good to lounge on the terrace or to walk in the streets lined with coconut palms but its complexity gives it a unique charm that only time can make you appreciate. Let yourself be surprised by its High City and its staircases that will lead you straight to a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding hills. At the top of the hill you will find the Queen's Palace, a former royal residence where the family of the merina kings lived until 1895. The district of Faravohitra and its churches testify to the colonial past of the city while some alleys recall the ancient soul of Tana with its wooden houses and thatched roof.
The Lower Town
The lower city and especially Analakely in the center is now completely refurbished. Formerly a swampy area, the area has undergone a major transformation and stands out today by the imposing avenue of independence nowadays lined with beautiful arcaded buildings. The avenue once housed the largest open-air market, the Zoma. There all the social classes came to haggle or simply wander among the stalls for fun. This symbol of Tana's life was, however, gradually replaced by modernity and the desire to Westernize the capital. To the north of the avenue, the Soarano railway station, built in 1910, is still functioning, but now fewer and fewer passengers. It now houses shops and restaurants.
Markets in Antananarivo, mostly in the open air, are gathering places where it is good to stop to realize the true urban life of the Big Island. Stop at the craft market of the dike or the market of Analakely swarming with local people who came to make some purchases and take advantage of these moments to observe them while imbuing you with the colors and scents that emerge from the stalls. You'll understand, Antananarivo is not a city like any other. This capital city of a thousand faces is to discover the following degrees of curiosities of each one, without a plan, according to the alleys and meetings.
Antananarivo is located in the center of Madagascar, the capital enjoys a temperate climate. Depending on the season, it is neither too hot nor too cold. Nevertheless, between June and August the city must face blows of cold air and some rain. The temperature can then drop sharply at night or become icy. From mid-November to March the rains are abundant with heavy thunderstorms. Nevertheless, the city which has a high rate of sunshine throughout the year enjoys beautiful clearings between each rain.
How to get around
In the city, the traffic is quite difficult and is sometimes blocked by traffic congestion. Many visits can be made on foot especially in the Upper Town. You will still have to choose a taxi to move from one point to another. The bravest will be able to try the public transport that serves the whole city but must already know the lines.
What to do in Antananarivo?
- Browse Independence Avenue until Soarano station.
- Explore the secrets of the Upper Town and discover the Queen's Palace, old quarters and churches or colonial houses while enjoying panoramic views of the city.
- Enjoy the tranquility of the Tsaratsaotra park and discover the ancient pavilions as well as its preserved fauna and flora.
- Discover the craftsmanship of the Antananarivo Ironworks.
- Pass through the Isoraka district to visit the tomb of Prime Minister Rainiharo before taking a culinary break in one of the restaurants or stalls.
- Stop on the craft market of La Digue or the market of Analakely and observe the agitation around the stalls.