Commonly called “Fianara”, Fianarantsoa is Antananarivo’s twin city. Belonging to the Haute Matsiatra region, this city shielded by hills is still part of the Highlands. Capital of the district of the same name, Fianarantsoa is more than a simple stopover to reach southern Madagascar and is often seen as a historical city with a relaxed atmosphere. It is famous for its wine and tea.
Fianarantsoa was built in the 19th century by Ranavalona I, at more than one thousand meters high on an ancient village called Ivoenava. The Queen intended to make it the capital of the southern part of the Big Island. The city’s architecture is similar to that of Antananarivo, with its alleys, stone stairs and marketplace. Ranavalona I also had an artificial lake built there, just like Lake Anosy in Antananarivo. Radama I, her husband, used it as a base camp during his military campaigns.
During the colonial period, the Fianarantsoa-Manakara railway line was built to promote the region’s economic development. This line allowed the Betsileo people to join the pantheon of rice, wine and tea producers in Madagascar.
According to tradition, only people of high status could choose to live near Governor Rafaralahindranaly’s palace. Those with a lower living standard had to live at the foot of the hill to show their submission and obedience to royalty.
The name of the city “Fianarantsoa” literally means “where one learns something good” or “which imitates well”, because it was founded in the image of Antananarivo. The city features three levels: the upper town, the middle town and the lower town.
The lower town
The best way to discover the charm of Fianarantsoa is to start your visit in the lower town or “Tanàna Ambany”, to the north of the city. It is the most popular quarter, with its numerous brightly colored shops and commercial establishments. The gemstone market is located in the former railway station, displaying sapphires, emeralds, rubies and amethysts.
The middle town
The quarter is much more modern. You will find there the city’s administrative establishments, including banks and the City Hall. This part of Fianarantsoa has inherited much of the colonial influence.
Cradle of the Betsileo Rova, the Anatirova quarter is the visitors’ favorite. Ambozontany also attracts many people and possesses a cathedral built in 1871.
Tsianolondroa gets its name from the proclamation of Queen anavalona II, which reinforced her status as the only mistress of the place. A palace was erected there on the occasion of the Betsileo King’s oath of allegiance in 1973. It was there that she decreed the code of the 118 articles.
The upper town
Also known as Antanambony, the upper town was developed on lvoneana, southwest of Fianarantsoa. It offers a breathtaking view over the rest of the city. A hardwood Rova stands proudly on it. To the south of the palace are located the officers’ houses, while the public square extends to the west. The Kianjasoa hill hides the view of Imerina to prevent soldiers from getting homesick. A few bamboo huts are nestled in a second enclosure protected by cannons. These were used as residences for soldiers and elders.
The upper town offers a more peaceful atmosphere compared to other parts of Fianara. It is recommended to visit the city on foot in order to find all the remains of its past. You will be seduced by the beauty of its narrow streets, punctuated by traditional houses adorned with beautiful climbing plants. Also discover the “Vatican of Fianarantsoa”, an impressive Tuscan-style cathedral.
Fianarantsoa has a temperate to warm climate, with more rainfall in summer than in winter. The average annual precipitation is 1,240 mm. The average temperature is 18.7 °C. June appears to be the driest and coldest month, with 18 mm of rainfall. The temperature reaches 21.4°C in January, the hottest month of the year. April, May, June, September, October and November are the best times to visit Fianarantsoa.
What to do and see in Fianarantsoa?
Reaching to the viewpoints will give you an overall aspect of Fianarantsoa where you will see the 3 levels of the city.
- Visit the Le Relais workshop:
Relais Madagascar is a mechanical and automotive manufacturing plant that owns the Malagasy KARENJY brand.
- Take the train to Manakara:
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can visit part of the country by getting on the train to Manakara. Once there, you can visit the artisanal Antehimoro paper mills or enjoy the landscape thanks to a canoe ride.
- Fianarantsoa and its surroundings:
To brighten up your stay, take a tour of the crafts workshops located on the outskirts of the city. Admire the work of vegetable fibers and bamboo, the weaving of silk, but also the design of Antemoro paper. Also visit the workshop of photographer Pierrot Men.
Located 23 km from the city, Sahambavy is home to the largest tea production area in Fianarantsoa. The plantations are run by a British company. The site, which covers nearly 400 ha, is accessible from the village of Sambaina.
- Visit the Clos Malaza vineyard
Clos Malaza is a wine estate located 30 km from Fianarantsoa. A magnificent trail is to be used to get there, or you will have to cross the Betsileo villages. You will be able to discover the Malagasy wine production method and taste it.
The village is located a few miles from Fianarantsoa. It is the soil of magnificent pottery, locally cooked in large open fires.