Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, is also its largest city and is located in the country’s central region. It is popularly called ‘Tana’ and was home to the country’s rulers for over three centuries. The capital is served by the Ivato International Airport, located around 17 km from the city centre.
This lively and chaotic city, with streets bustling with activity and traffic, lovely French era buildings and crowded markets will offer you Madagascar’s most urban experience. In Antananarivo, you will come in contact with the country’s history and rich Malagasy culture. The Independence Square is the heart of the city and is surrounded by numerous shops, restaurants and cafes.
The Rova of Antananarivo was home to the rulers of the Kingdom of Imerina and the Kingdom of Madagascar between the 17th and 19th centuries. This royal palace complex is located atop the hill Analamanga and overlooks the entire city. You can visit the Rova which includes the Queen’s Palace, several churches and royal tombs. The Queen’s Palace which was designed for Queen Ranavalona I, is the main highlight of the Rova. The complex was severely damaged in a fire in 1995, after which it was restored to its former glory.
A stroll through the bustling and colourful Analakely market is the best way to experience the local Malagasy culture. This is the capital’s largest market and you will find stalls selling everything under the sun, from fresh food products to electronics and clothing. Be wary of your belongings as pickpocketing is quite common.
Around 24 km from the city is the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, a heavily fortified stone complex which was once the capital of the Merina Kingdom. It has been occupied since the 15th-century and today you can visit the ruins of palaces, houses, royal baths, tombs, pavilions, ritual chambers, shrines and other structures. Ambohimanga still remains an important sacred site in the country, and you can see people visiting the shrines with offerings like honey, sweets and zebu horns. From here, you can also enjoy wonderful views of the surrounding valleys.
The Ivato Crocodile Farm, more popularly known as the Croc Farm, is situated 10 minutes away from the Ivato airport. It is a commercial breeding farm where you can see hundreds of Nile crocodiles. There are also other animal species like lemurs, frogs, snakes, tortoises, chameleons and fosa. If you are bold enough, you can check out the restaurant here that serves all kinds of crocodile meat based dishes! These crocodiles are also used for leather and there is a shop within the premises which sells these leather goods.
The Tsimbazaza Park is a botanical and zoological garden, located just 15 minutes away from the city centre. You can have a relaxing stroll through the beautiful gardens and admire the exotic plant species that are grown here. The park also houses all the popular residents of Madagascar’s wild like the iconic lemurs, snakes, chameleons, lizards and endemic birds. You can also see exhibits of traditional houses and there is a small museum as well.
The capital has few museums that are dedicated to the rich history and culture of the country. Musée de la Photo is considered the best museum in the city and its walls display photographs that take you through the country’s history from the 1st century till the present day. You will also find some images of ancient traditions and rituals.
Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie, located in the University of Antananarivo, Isoraka displays artefacts that were excavated from archaeological sites all over the country. The exhibits include grave decorations, talismans and items used for rituals.
Musée Andafivaratra, is set in a charming pink palace that was home to former Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony. You can see artefacts belonging to the royals of the Merina tribe, genealogy charts, tea sets and other items. Most of the rooms and upper floors are closed and there is not much to see, but it is worth visiting for admiring the impressive baroque architecture.
The charming Ambohitsorohitra Palace was an official residence during the French rule, after which it became home to the country’s President. However, in 1991 a modern palace, Lavoloha, was built 15 km away from the capital and is now the President’s official residence. You can visit the Ambohitsorohitra Palace and admire its French architecture but you are not allowed to enter. Note that photographs are generally not allowed.
Almost every trip to Madagascar will have you passing through the capital and it is definitely worth checking out! You can marvel at the lovely French architecture, learn about Malagasy culture and visit some interesting historical and natural sites. Also, the capital is the best place in the country to try out the mouth-watering native cuisine!
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