Saturday, 8 November 2014

Tananarive - then and now

'Then' in the title refers to 1991 when I spent five weeks in and around Tana (or Antananarivo to give it its official name). 'Now' refers to the unscheduled stopover we recently had to make there for 24 hours on our way back from south-west Madagascar after Air Madagascar changed our flights. Although I'd spent the night near the airport when travelling to and/or from the Tsingy of Bemaraha and Nosy Be I'd never actually spent any time back in the city centre since 1991, so I was interested to see how it had changed.

there are paddy fields quite close to the city

Antananarivo is now a bustling city of 1.6 million inhabitants - that's 50% of the island's urban population (Madagascar's total population is currently 22 million).  Rather unsurprisingly the main difference since 1991 was the urbanisation and amount of traffic. The airport used to be located in a town separate from the capital, a shortish drive from the city, but it's now a case of bumper-to-bumper traffic and more or less continuous buildings, apart from a stretch where there are some rice fields (see photo above).

We spent the evening at the home of an old friend who lives in Tana (the first half of dinner was with candles due to the city's rolling power cuts!), then (re)visited the city the next morning. A defining feature of Antanarivo centre is the Avenue de l'Independence, a very broad thoroughfare that is lined with shops. The old train station (called Soarano, which means 'good water'), from where I took a train to Antsirabe in 1991, is at the north end, and has recently been refurbished but currently only handles freight trains. There's a nice café on one side, Café de la Gare.

Soarano train station

When I was staying in the city in 1991 my accommodation was located just off the Avenue, and I often used to walk along it to one of the salons de thé if there were no political demonstrations that day. 

looking down the Avenue to the station

The large Friday market, zoma (which means 'Friday' in Malagasy), used to take place all along the Avenue, until in 1994 for reasons of safety and hygiene it was moved to a much smaller covered market, Analakely.

Zoma in the Avenue de l'Indépendance in 1991

Antananarivo city hall, located on Avenue de l'Independence

Another defining feature of Tana is its hills; it currently spreads over 18 of them!

Looking down and across Lalana Ranavalonal, 2014

Looking down and across Lalana Ranavalonal, 1991

Analakely market is at the southern end of Independence Avenue.

Analakely market

Analakely market 

As mentioned above, Tana is located on several hills, and on one called Analamanga, at 1480m altitude, sits the Rova, or Queen's Palace (rova means 'fortified place'). Dating back to the 17th century, it was severely fire damaged by suspected arson on 6th November 1995, shortly before it was due to be inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and today only the stone shell remains, together with some outbuildings, statues and a chapel. 

photo from my visit to the Rova in 1991

King Ramada II's wooden palace and Andrianampoinimerina's original palace, which dated from 1845 and 1796 respectively, were unfortunately destroyed by the same fire, although a replica has been built of the latter. Today the palace is entered via a stone stairway leading to a large north-facing gate (built by the British architect James Cameron in 1845), topped by a bronze voromahery (eagle) imported from France by in 1840. The voromahery was the symbol of the Merina royal dynasty to which the monarchs belonged.

Rova entrance gate; note the phallic symbol to the left 
(a symbol of circumcision and thus nobility)

Beyond the gate lies a courtyard where a semi-official fee of 10,000 ariary is charged to access the site, from where there are good panoramic views of the city. You can choose to take a guided tour. 

Rova main building, called Manjakamiada
('A fine place to rule')

The structure of the main building was originally made of wood, which was changed to stone according to Queen Ranavalona II's orders in 1869.

The French moved the remains of Merina kings and queens from the Rova when they took over the city in 1845, an act that is still considered to be a profanation by the Malagasy. Today the remains are back, and since the fire they have been restored with bilateral government donations, state funds and grants from intergovernmental and private donors. The townspeople still visit the royal tombs to ask for blessings.

royal tombs of Queen Rasoherina (left) and Radama I (centre)

Beside the main building is a black wood hut, with a tiny, raised doorway - in fact a replica of the palace of King Andrianampoinimerina, founder of the Merina kingdom. The royal bed is situated in the sacred northwest corner of the hut. The simple furniture inside is aligned according to astrological rules. The king supposedly hid in the rafters when visitors arrived, signalling whether the guest was welcome by dropping pebbles onto his wife's head.

inside the replica of King Andrianampoinimerina's palace

Fiangonana ("Chapel") is a Protestant place of worship built in stone by William Pool for Queen Ranavalona II between 1869 and 1880. Italian-style, its construction used over 35,000 hand-chiselled stones and it had an estimated capacity of 450 persons. 

outside Fiangonana chapel

The building was designed with a private pew  and entrance for the royal family. At the time of its completion, its 34-metre tower was the only structure in Madagascar to be roofed in locally-sourced slate. The windows were decorated with stained glass, and a pipe organ was installed to provide music at services. The organ and stained glass were imported from England, while the pews, altar panels and queen's private pew were all ornately crafted from indigenous precious woods by local artisans. Partly damaged by the fire, it has since been restored.

inside Fiangonana chapel

From the Rova you can see Lake Anosy, an artificial heart-shaped lake located in the southern part of the city. On an island, connected to the shore by an isthmus, stands a large white angel on a plinth, a WWI memorial erected by the French in 1927.

View of Lake Anosy

panoramic view of part of Tana from the Rova

another view of Tana from the Rova

Next to the Rova is Andafiavaratra Palace, the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who governed the island kingdom in the late 19th century. The building currently serves as a museum and houses an estimated 1466 objects of historical importance to the Kingdom of Madagascar that were rescued from the Rova fire.

Andafiavaratra Palace

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