When you arrive in Antananarivo, take off into the narrow windy streets that clamber up the hillside. When you get to the top of the highest hill, the Queen's Palace, symbol of the fallen Malagasy monarchy, watches out over the riotous tumble below, punctuated by elegant traditional houses and red-brick church towers. When you get to your destination, get your breath back as you take in the views over the city. Then choose one of the approved Antananarivo tourist office guides who will be delighted to tell you about the history of this imposing stone palace and the sovereigns who once lived there. Hailing from the central highlands of the island, the Merina dynasty ruled over Madagascar until the 19th century, 1895 to be exact.
Your visit starts in the gardens of the palace, rova in Malagasy. The crown jewels may be long gone, but you can visit a reconstruction of the first royal residence which was built from wood. Make sure to enter with your right foot following one of the many fady or taboos that govern Madagascan society. There is none of the former splendour inside now, but there are some charming oddities nonetheless. In the main room, the king would climb a ladder and hide when the queen received their guests. Depending on the content of the conversation, he would throw small pebbles to indicate whether he would take part in the meeting or whether the guests would be sent away.
Queen's Palace (Manjakamiadana)
Antananarivo Regional Tourist Office
Escalier Ranavalona Antaninarenina
+261 20 22 270 51
Discovering royal collections
After the rova, away from all the hustle and bustle of the centre, take the short walk to the Andafiavaratra Palace museum. It reopened its doors in 2014, after the crown of Queen Ranavalona was stolen. Roam among the new collections on display and pause to admire the silk lambas of Radama I, a clock belonging to Queen Rasoherina, silverware made by the royal silversmiths and the swords of a former prime minister. The history of this grand building with its glass dome goes back to the reign of Ranavalona I at the very end of the 18th century. Since 1972, the great hall on the ground floor has held receptions hosted by the head of the Madagascan government.
Pilgrimage to the sacred hill
To get a better understanding of the country's royal history, make your way to the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, located 20 kilometres to the north of the capital. This fortified settlement, classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the birthplace of the civilisation that developed in the central highlands of Madagascar from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Former religious capital and sacred city of the Malagasy kingdom, Ambohimanga was the burial place of Merina kings and queens and is still a place of worship and great pride to many Madagascans today.
You have to leave your car in the village and climb steep steps to get to the site. Once inside one of the 14 fortified stone gateways, take your time and discover this calm and shady settlement. Immerse yourself in its spirituality and roam around the two carved wooden palaces. Madagascans come here to recharge their batteries and to ask for blessings for everything they undertake in life. Watch them from a distance as they gather in front of the royal tombs, sacred pools and majestic trees. Finish off with a tour of the fortifications and admire the landscape, unchanged since the glorious days of the Kingdom of Madagascar.
Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
+261 20 22 661 15