Spend a day in Ambohimanga, at the “vohitra masina”!

Hello dear nomads! I hope you are fine! Today, I would like to talk to you about a great place here in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar. It is called Ambohimanga, a place located from 21 miles from Antananarivo, and which is a national and world heritage of 59 hectares. It is the only Malagasy site to appear on the list of the world heritage of UNESCO on the basis of cultural criteria. The place is known for its royal hill, its “Rova”(1) or royal palace where the King, Andrianampoinimerina, has reigned for 22 years, from 1788 à 1810. A place which is the Religious capital and holy city of the kingdom of Madagascar, and mostly the Imerina kingdom, in the 19th century. Madagascar became a modern and internationally recognized State since 1817. I took a day to visit that place, to (re)discover the story, to eat, to test the connection, to talk to people, to take pictures, in order to share that amazing adventure with you, today!

The story of the royal hill of Ambohimanga

The royal hill of Ambohimanga is the cradle of the kingdom and the dynasty that made Madagascar a modern and internationally recognized state since 1817. The site is one of the 12 sacred hills of Imerina.

The indication plate of the village of Ambohimanga. ©Tiasy
The royal hill from below. ©Tiasy

It is associated with a strong sense of national identity and has retained its spiritual and sacred character for at least 400 years both in ritual practice and in the popular imagination.

The site occupied an important political place at the beginning of the 18th century when King Andriamasinavalona (1675-1710) divided the Merina Kingdom into 4 parts and chose his son Andriantsimitoviaminiandriana to govern the northeastern part, called Avaradrano, from his new capital Ambohimanga.

On this hill is built the ancient city, cradle of the Merina kingdom, which, as a sacred city, was forbidden to the “Vazaha”(2) and to pigs.

It was in this city that King Imboasalama was born and after the conquest of Antananarivo, he became King Andrianampoinimerina or prince desired by the Imerina.

The Rova is located at the top of the hill, with a royal burial site and a set of sacred places: two wooden pavilions with a floor where the queens Ranavalona I and Ranavalona II came to stay, an ox park and the sacred basins where the queens bathed.

The whole city is called the holy city or the “vohitra masina”(3), which covers 59 hectares. Since the place has become a touristic site, the visit of the holy city starts at the tickets place. The price is different for the foreigners and the locals, and if you wish to take pictures, you have to pay a ticket for each device: phone, tablet, camera.

In the royal city, you will also find a lot of restaurants and places where you can buy souvenirs. For my part, I took lunch at a restaurant called “Tsara tazana”, which means “Beautiful view”. The restaurant gives on a panoramic view of the entire hill of the North-East of the Palace. A real treat for the eyes!

The panoramic view from the restaurant “Tsara Tazana”. ©Tiasy

Extraordinary constructions which testify to the culture of the Imerina Kingdom

The Ambohimanga Rova has one of the most extraordinary architectures of the royal palaces in the Capital. It witnesses the intelligence of the Malagasy civilization. You won’t believe that the surrounding wall of the royal palace was built with a coating made with egg.

The surrounding wall of the Rova was built with a coating made with egg. ©Tsiky Pictures

The rova has also been built under a great protection with the “hadivory” or large ditches that surround the palace to prevent enemies from easily entering the kingdom.

To reinforce this defense system, it is necessary to pass through 7 main “vavahady” or gates, each of which has its own property, lintelled portals, open and natural. The gates have their own functions, some of them are intended for the entry of funeral processions, others are intended for the sovereigns and the royal family, and others for the servants or the people. The gates are solidly made of stone. Their architecture is also different, the others are surmounted by cottages and covered with straw, while some have stone discs serving as closures.

The portals that lead to the site have their names such as:

  • Ambavahady Tsiombiomby
  • Vavahady Ambodiaviavy
  • Vavahady Andranomboahangy
  • Ambavahadimasina
  • Ampitaindranomasina
  • Vavahady Amboara
  • Vavahady Andakana
  • Vavahady Rainisalama
  • Vavahady Ampitsaharana
  • Vavahady Andranomatsatso
  • Vavahady Antsolatra
  • Vavahady Miandravahiny Ambony (North)
  • Vavahady Miandravahiny Ambany (South)

Ambatomitsangana is the main door, it is located at the East of the palace, it is provided with a watch post and equipped with an enormous stone disc which is used to close the door.  It takes more than 20 soldiers to move the stone disk of about 12 tons.

Mahandrihono Palace is the former residence of King Andrianampoinimerina. ©Tsiky Pictures
“Here has lived and reigned the great King Andrianampoinimerina. 1788-1810”. ©Tiasy

Mahandrihono Palace is the former residence of King Andrianampoinimerina. The palace is made of black rosewood, decorated with a commemorative plaque. In the place, you can still find some kitchen utensils, bowls and small lamps. It is worth noting that one enters the room with the right foot and leaves with the left foot in reverse and with bare feet.

The galssed-in belvedere for the royal meetings. ©Tsiky Pictures

Next to Mahandrihono Palace is the house of Queen Ranavalona III, surrounded by balcony and balusters and the royal hut which is made of wood and contains only one room. Next to it stands a glassed-in belvedere that serves as a meeting room for the government and the queen.

A little further north is erected the house of Andriatsimitoviaminandrina, the palace is called Bevato.

Behind the palaces is the “Fahimasina” or the ox pit, where the oxen are killed for the sacrifices. While going up the staircase one arrives at the “dobomasina”, the two basins intended for the royal baths. One was a bath for King Andrianampoinimerina and the other a pool for Ranavalona I. The water took its source in the sacred lake of Amparihy which is in the North of the village. Today, local pilgrims but also foreigners are coming in Ambohimanga to throw coins in the water, in order to get a wish come true. Once the wish is realized, they come back for donation to thank the “spirits”. Some are throwing fishes in the fountain, some others are killing oxes for sacrifices.

You can find the lapa Fidasiana at the bottom of the palace on the left. It is a space where the King holds the speech in front of the people, it is also a place of ox sacrifice. It is shaded by the big sacred tree “amontana”, a tree that grows only on the sovereign places. There is also a large stone that serves as a platform for the king when he wants to address the people.

Next to the palaces, you can also find the royal tombs: the Felamboahangy Tomb and the Mahazaza Tomb, where kings, queens and the other kings spouses are resting.

The royal tombs where kings, queens and the other kings spouses are resting. ©Tsiky Pictures

The panoramic view from Ambohimanga

Apart from the amazing constructions, the royal hill of Ambohimanga is famous for its view on all the Antananarivo land. A beautiful panoramic view, for which people are craving to take pictures. The landscape is so unique that anyone looking at the picture would recognize it.

The hill of Manjakamiadana, where is located the Rova of Madagascar, is located from more than 20 miles from there and where other kings and queens lived, can be seen from there. I took a lot of pictures. I think it is the best way to show you the beauty of this place.

The view of the city of Antananarivo from Ambohimanga. ©Tiasy
I was trying to take the pose xD. ©Tsiky Pictures
  • Trip preparation

If you want to visit Ambohimanga, you don’t really need a lot of stuff. Although, you may need some money – of course !, a car which can be driven on damaged road – it would be advised to take a 4×4, Starex or some kind of Mini-van.

If you don’t speak Malagasy or French, you may need some English translators.

If you don’t want to eat in restaurants, you can bring your own food. The pork meat is prohibited there, so it is advised to respect the “fady”(4) to avoid any “problems” in the future.

Finally, it is recommended to go there in the morning, because the place closes at about 4pm.


(1)”Rova”: malagasy term for “royal palace”
(2)”Vazaha”: generic malagasy term designating whites and more generally foreigners
(3)”vohitra masina”: malagasy term for “holy city”
(4) “Fady”: malagasy term designating all the taboos and prohibitions. The non-respect of taboos can lead to harmful consequences, often supernatural according to popular beliefs, for the individual who deliberately does not respect them.

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