Mantasoa: Jean Laborde’s legacy, a tourist and relaxing place
Mantasoa is a place of leisure located about 70 km from Antananarivo. This weekend destination is ideal for relaxation and rest. Calm and serenity reign in this locality which bears witness to Madagascar’s first real industrialization period. It is currently an open-air museum composed of an artificial lake, Jean Laborde’s wooden house and tomb, the old buildings and ovens, etc.
When Queen Ranavalona I wanted to industrialize the country independently, without the help of any European country, she gave Jean Laborde free rein. In 1837, he imagined a city that he had drawn with his hands on marshy ground surrounded by partially forested hills and dotted with gneiss. The site has been cleared in order to install sewer lines, raise dikes, build stone buildings and several ovens for carburizing, pottery, lime and ironwork. The construction of the blast furnace (called “afo mahery”) was completed in 1841.
The swamps have been transformed into artificial lakes to create a reservoir, to regulate the course of the Ikopa River and to protect the Betsimitatatra plain and its rice fields from flooding. A channel was used to distribute hydraulic energy for machines and furnaces. In this city that Jean Laborde calls “Soatsimanampiovana” or unchanging beauty, the activities also include silkworm breeding, powder magazines and shops. A zoo with African antelopes has even been set up there for the queen’s entertainment.
The workers and supervisors lived in red rooftop huts. The officers and the Prime Minister regularly stayed there in pleasure houses. Of course, the queen had her own residence there, with a swimming pool whose water was constantly renewed. That house was dominated by a throne from the top of which she liked to observe the workers at work and listen to the noise of factories, water wheels and reamers. Jean Laborde also built his house and tomb there in accordance with Malagasy custom.
The activities of the Mantasoa industrial complex ceased when Jean Laborde went into exile in Reunion Island in 1855. Everything was abandoned until the colonial period when the water wheels started to turn again, the machine tools reused and the electric motors restarted. The old buildings have been converted into a military post and a regional school. The site had become a park where people could discover the past glory of this industry, Jean Laborde’s wooden house and tomb. The dam is still used to irrigate 6,000 ha of rice fields, containing up to 125 million m³ of water.
Through our travel agency in Madagascar, you can enjoy the lake, which allows today a wide range of water sports activities, such as sightseeing, water skiing, pedal-boating, fishing, etc. A sturgeon farm has recently been installed there. The shores of the lake are dotted with charming hotels offering quiet stays, away from the capital’s turmoil. These establishments also offer different activities like hiking, cycling, quad biking and horseback riding in the surrounding area. A forest of eucalyptus trees perched at an altitude of 1,500 meters plunges visitors into a magical world. Crocodiles, turtles, snakes, chameleons, sifaka (lemurs) and butterflies add more fun to your visit!