Travel Tips for Antananarivo
Ricefields in urban areas (Betsimitatatra plains)
Now, about Tana municipality area, it was initially designed to be inhabited only on its hillsides/ cliffs.
The pic was taken from the hill on which lies the Queen palace, located South East of Tana urban area: Analamanga or Antananarivo hill. Notice the ricefields in the middle of urban areas. It's because the whole downtown used to be a swamp dedicated to only one design: rice cultivation, so to feed the whole population.
King Andrianampoinimerina (18 cent) had it fit only for our staple food cultivation. That's one reason why Tana cliffs are so packed. Initial housing areas were there. Betsimitatatra plains (300 sq. km) lie at the foot of Antananarivo hill and used to receive the eroded soil from the cliffs. They are the widest of plains in the Central Highlands.
Then the French came. They had parts of Betsimitatatra plains fit so to allow inhabitants to live in the swamps. But hey, each summer (rainy season), houses in there have used to suffer from floods. Well, not flooded but they were so badly built that inhabitants have problems with evacuating used waters... High water levels in drains don't allow correct evacuation. Of course, bad management of previous governments (the ones that replaced the French) hadn't helped in improving the situation.
Successive municipality teams (from 2001 till 2007) had begun tackling the fitting of the downtown (esp. the worst fit ones). Still, it's a tough job, and a touchy one, to tell people to get out of their houses that were wrongly built to fit in the initial plans. All of that occurs when past municipality authorities "allowed" some people to build without respecting the plans, the construction rules. Now, the authorities that have to correct everything are seen as careless. And what about those who got fat receiving bakschich money to let some build without any respect of the initial urbanistic plans? The most interesting parts of Tana lie in Middle town and Uptown (on top of the hills).
However, here and there, ricefields and cultivations areas have been kept and it leaves such sceneries in the nearby suburbs.
It's only by seeing the area from the top of a hill that I remembered the history of our urbanization... Amazing. Once again, it wouldn't mean anything to you (would it ?), as tourists, but would to me.
So, if you happen to visit my birth city, take lots of films to have the bird’s eye view from tops of hills. Also, I can say that watching sunsets from there is an experience. Still, some of my favourite eateries are in the downtown and middletown...
Another palace.... to see
Just to see, no visit allowed since it is the current office of the Big Man of the country: The President.
Ambohitsorohotra is a compound that used to be privately owned, confiscated then fit to house the French governor during the colonial era, Gallieni. It had also served as Presidential office untill another "presidential palace" was built in the Southern area of Tana in the 90s. Meanwhile, elegant "Ambohitsorohitra" served as office of Tana Mayor, Marc Ravalomanana (elected Mayor in december 1999) until he ran for presidency in 2001. He has kept Ambohitsorohitra as his office as Madagascar's President. Talking about men at work... It is forbidden to take pictures of Ambohitsorohitra. I was told so the first day I drove by... I asked my bro-in-law to stop and allow me to snap away. He advised not to do it. That day, I remembered I had seen somewhere on the net that it was forbidden. Still, the last Saturday before my departure, I went back to the area.
I could take picture of buildings, cobblestoned sloppy streets. When I saw the policemen chatting with the streetvendors, I thought I could snap away. No way! watch out ! Policemen without uniform use to browse the area. I was strolling for some time, adjusting my lenses to have the perspectives of Ambohitsorohitra when a man came to see me. He was in a casual attire: white shirt and Khaki pants. He told me it was forbidden to take picture of the palace. I thought he was joking but given the firm tone he spoke with, I understood he was an official. He didn't confiscate my camera (was afraid of that :-) but he made it understood he (and probaly colleagues) is there to browse around and prevent people from taking picture. Following this encountering, I returned to my car and while passing in front of the Presidential office, I snapped this, very randomly. So this is how it comes out: the left aisle (probably guard office) and in background right: a part of the main building.
No doubt, this civil policeman was working.. really working.
Men at work. One is lost and the other would be caught and the policemen are playing cards with streetstall keepers whilst zealous civil policemen would prevent you from taking pictures... (Hehehe.. )
"Manal' azy" is an expression meaning "to let off steam". Textual meaning is "Get rid off it!". Well, this is about loosening up after exams. Exams period, for most pupils and students, ends end June- early July. Only University people and those who sit for Baccalauréat may still have exam in Mid-July.
If you travel in Madagascar from end of June, you may go to some concerts in Tana. Most of time, they are named "Manal' azy" shows. At beginning, it was an expression launched by a very popular band in Madagascar. Now, every year, there are Manal' azy evenings, that involve several bands. What started as a one-night show now include Manal' azy shows that gather students for some days.
This coincides with the June 26 celebration sometimes. End of June is a period of hectic nightlife for students.
Also, month of June is the beginning of the Famadihana period too. Famadihana is the turning the bones celebration for Merina and Betsileo tribes. To know more about Famadihana, click here.
Cycling to sightseeing
Although Antananarivo and its province do not have any beach, they offer some opportunities to see other landscapes: the highlands. Through these areas, you can either walk either cycle either ride a motorbike to see the plains, the villages, the ricefields in cascades, in plains. Also its geography allows variations in declivity, that may interest experienced cyclers, for instance.
From pure sport, it will evolve into some sightseeing tour.
OK, you don't know where to go, which route to follow, you may check MadaVTT. This club promotes VTT (mountainbiking). They use to organize tours in Antananarivo (e.g Le circuit des 3 rovas, a circuit that liaises 3 sacred hills that have palaces in Antananarivo area) & elsewhere through the Island. If my memory serves me well, they use to include guests. Maybe you could contact them to see whether there should be sthg that interests you.
They have a website (in French). I saw it a while ago over the net. Now, Feb. 2006, I could also read about their last tour. In case you do not understand French, you may want to check the website anyway, just to have e-mail addresses and get into contact with organizers. No ? Maybe a bike ? Not sure they hire mountainbike. Anyway, browse their website, send e-mails about their conditions, dates, locations, possibilities. Well, you know the way....
Take a day trip to AMBOHIMANGA...
Take a day trip to AMBOHIMANGA or 'Blue Hill', just north of Tana, which was the original capital city of the Merina clan. There you will find a picturesque little village, plenty of beautiful scenery and the former palace compound. The latter belonged to King Andrianampoinimerina, who reigned from 1787 until 1810 and promoted the unification of Madagascar. (His full name, by the way, was Andrianampoinimerinandriantsimitoviaminandriampanjaka !)