.. or "Blue Hill" (1500m) is the most sacred of the twelve (sacred) hills that surround Antananarivo.
Located 20-odd kilometers North of Tana, this Royal city is considered as the cradle of Merina kingdom, if not Madagascar kingdom.
The city is a fort surrounded by some 10-odd kilometer-labyrinth of moats with many enormous stone gates. Pic2: the gate at one entry of the city, Ambatomitsangana. The stone discus used to block the entry & be pushed to allow guests to enter the fort. Nowadays, where I stood to snap this picture is a tiny market place with few stalls. The bus station is there too.
Then, in the heart of the city lies the Rova, named Mahandry Rova. The Rova contains two royal dwellings. Most important is, imho, Mahandrihono, King Andrianampoinimerina's "Hut" (cf. intro pic and its dark wooded roof on this picture). He used to live there. Then, you have the summer residence of some of our Queens with a meeting room and other amenities.
Also, you'll see there Royal burial sites, oxen park as well as shrines, sacred pools...
The City itself is on UNESCO World Heritage list since 2001.
Fondest memory: Serenity
A silent ambience though at the entry, you'd hear three or four violonists playing (solo) Malagasy Kalon'ny Fahiny standards.
Another feature of Ambohimanga: Ambatomiantendro rock.
Uses to be a landmark to locate Ambohimanga from afar. It was made easy to spot the hill from Tana's Manjakamiadana Rova. As a King, it was the obvious place to have a bird's eye view on one's territory & to review strategies. That was reported to be one of Nampoina's favourite pastimes, a strategy game on top of the rock.
Standing there, you'll have at your feet a view on, first, a primitive forest, then the village in the plains then the ricefields..etc. You can go on like that as far as your eyes can reach, till you see the other hills, including Antananarivo. That's your horizon from there. Pic2, as far as my 10x optical zoom could reach.
On Ambatomiantendro, you may still see pilgrims asking for blessings as King Andrianampoinimerina was reported to play Fanorona over there. Indeed, you'd still see carved in the stone the grids of this Malagasy gameboard the king used to play (pic3). Ok, if you don't see any pilgrim but notice some poured water, animal blood, honey with flowers, sweets... that means a pilgrim was there. Pilgrims use to pay tribute, ask the ancestors blessings. As a child, I heard about ancestors' ability to give sterile women chances to bear child. Ancestors still play an important role in Malagasy culture. Our traditional believes used to evolve around Ancestor worshipping.
Then, there is a possibility to visit the forest (I did it moons ago, an assignment for my biology class & enjoyed it very much). The primitive forest, one of the rarest ones very near urban Tana, is a protected area, though.
Heard of a VTer to have picknicked on top of this rock. My step-bro had the experience of chilling on this rock with friends and beer (they didn't know it's taboo to have alcohol within this compound ?). Told it was great. My first great experience there was witnessing a sunset over the plains... awesome.
Fondest memory: The view !
The big rock looks onto the ricefields and towards Antananarivo. From the many times I was there, it has been always a pleasure to sit/stand on it and admire the view.. it brings you away.
Needless to say, it allowed to have views on enemies strategic moves and to protect the fort city.
As I use to say: "No better place than the top"
This is a view on the massif that surrounds North of Tana. I snapped this picture while visiting the "glass room" of the Queens. In this room, the Queens, esp. Ranavalona II, reported to chill out and sometimes had her work sessions. The pieces of furniture were donations from European kingdoms (of that time and Japan).
The view from there was exceptional too.
Fondest memory: You're in Andrianampoinimerina area, on top of his hill and not finding ricefields plains ? That would be very strange!
This must be my nth picture of ricefields but hey, I couldn't resist. I love ricefields pacthworks.
In fact, Nampoina who started reigning in Ambohimanga (end 18th cent. - early 19th) before conquering the most prestigious Antananarivo hill, had the surrounding plains of Avaradrano ("North of the (Ikopa) water") fit to allow rice cultivation. The widest of those plains are the so-called Laniera plains in the Northern part of Tana. So, it's not unusual to find ricefields in the Northern countryside. Plus, Ambohimanga (which is not pat of Laniera though) is reported to be the few cities who had still kept the initial fields from that era.
Though, prior to Andrianampoinimerina, King Andriamanelo had already had fit the plains in Antananarivo. That was in the 16th century and Betsimitatatra plains are those edging Antananarivo urban center from its Western side.
Serenity of countryside
Fondest memory: Had been always fascinated by how living on the foot of this sacred hill would be... It is not a joke but while passing by as a child, I'd always envied people having their home in such a green area though I live just 3 miles from this area. We both have the ricefields, the serenity.. but they have a more beautiful view on the ricefields plains (pic2, pic3, pic4) for them being located on a higher level than us in Malaza. Anyway, nothing wouldn't top that, I think. Plus, they live very near some of the rare primitive woods in Antananarivo. Btw, you can visit this forest but is required some permit & a guide.
Aaaah! Ambohimanga Ambohimanga. It has been always a nice run to go there. In fact, Malaza, my fokontany is part of Ambohimanga Rova municipality. In March, when I had to go through some red tape to renew my ID card, I had to go to the Ambohimanga office to do it.
I am currently reading a history book on Madagascar. It is the first (and so far, the only one I've ever heard of) to be released in English. It explains a lot: from the origins of Madagascarian (Malagasy) people, through the occupation of the island, the kingdoms, early contacts with Europeans, French colonial era to nowadays Madagascar. Some anecdots may enlighten on local customs and culture as well.
It is "A history of Madagascar" by Sir Meryn BROWN, a former British ambassador in Madagascar. ISBN 09506284 5 X
Fondest memory: History... Ambohimanga played an important role in Antananarivo, Merina clan histories and so the sacred hill did even on Madagascar's.
Picture: view on the Laniera plains that Nampoina had fit for rice cultivation. The plains extends in Northern Tana area.. surrounding Ambohimanga, Malaza, Lazaina, Sabotsy-Namehana, Anosy.. many of those areas being part of Ambohimanga municipailty. Malaza, my village is.
On background, tamboho gasy, the Tana region's traditional red-earth enclosure walls that used (and still use) to delimitate and protect the area of a clan, a family. This picture was taken on Tana-Ambohimanga route, just before passing near royal village of Anosy (I know, the Northern area is packed with royal something... it's true.. Many of the great families of noblemen have their roots in Anosy, Ilafy: another royal city halfway between Tana and Ambohimanga... a whole string of royal cities in this Northern area). Btw, Anosy is worth the visit for the traditional tombs of noblemen. Most distinctive feature is the tranomanara, the little house above the tomb itself. My last visit to Anosy dated back to 2000, while having my daily walk in our countryside. One day, my Mum decided to walk with me so I asked her to visit Anosy area. Not really the village I was interested in, rather the tombs. They were gathered, built in line, all of carmin colour, with these tiled roof houses above them and containing the mortal remains of notorious noblemen.
Well, your road to Ambohimanga may lead you discovering specificities of the Northern area if you dare to stop along the route.
What can I say ? I went there when it was best to enjoy the lush environment....
A simple snap from my carwindow while rushing away to Ambohimanga administrative bureau.
The trip itself is something not to miss... In 3-week span, I did it 4-5 times, the last one being for the visit of the Royal compound. I'm still intrigued about the area around the royal complex iself. I think I'll have some walks in the surrounding areas next time, not only the royal compound and just Ambohimanga rova village. It's a whole city, a whole hill, and I only visited the compound. OK, next time... I live only 5km from this hill, after all.
Fondest memory: It was when visiting this administrative bureau (my village, Malaza, is part of Ambohimanga Rova municipality) that I realized how important zébus are.
I was waiting for my IDcard to be renewed and sitting at the officials' desk when I saw a book that keeps track of the census of zebus in the area. I've never seen such a book in the past. I asked about the book and from the chatting I had there, I was explained that for zébus being for a great value and often easily stolen by thieves, peasants have to declare the number of zébus they have to rural municipalities so that whenever the latter have to carry out inquiries, they'll use it.
Something unusual, there is census for zébus cattles not for pigs neither poultry products. Though, pork meat is more expensive than zébu's in Madagascar.
I entered the compound as a guest of the King. Guess how it came out.
There isn't any reining king neither queen anymore. So my Mum, my cousins and myself couldn't be real guests of any King.
The reason was that usually, visitors use to enter the complex from the gate at the left side of Fidasiana, whislt this time, due to some works, it was safer to let them enter from the VIP gate. That's how it happened.
Fondest memory: - Each time I visited Ambohimanga, serenity and silence prevailed. Though, climbing the staircases from the parking lot to the fort, you would pass in front of musicians playing violin. One of them whom I remembered of particularly, was blind (or at least had whitened irises). The first time I visited Ambohimanga, as a pupil, I noticed him. As an adult, I still saw him... but I think he was alone back then. Now, he has some competitors (or challengers?). In the past, he used to play at the gate for the "mundane" visitors as us.
-More than anywhere else, the scenery of men playing fanorona is a kind of symbolism. indeed, this board game was the favourite of Nampoina... You'd still see the grid of this game engraved on Ambatomiatendro rock.
Visiting the forest...
Sorry for bad quality of the picture... it has yellowed at corners, then darkened in my driver (well.. my "picture software" decided it was the best result that could come out of it..lol)... Read the text, ignore the picture, would you ? lol
Fondest memory: In high school, our Biology teacher had the brilliant idea to organize some study journey to do some ecometry. She has chosen the primitive forest of Ambohimanga for that... Imagine, a school day spent with friends in a forest, at just some 5km from home (I was so used to the 40-min commuting). Plus, I love being in contact with nature. No wonder I was so excited to do that: my first time ever in a "jungle".. well, a primitive forest.
Our biology class was divided in clusters.
Our teacher had booked a whole coach for us. I was one of the students who lived closer the study site (for once...). I brought the spade from home, the net too, I think. My team-mates brought the other tools. The aim was to make an inventory of fauna and flora within a determined surface of the forest (I thought it was 5m*5m). As all of the teams, my team (all male except me) spent the day capturing (they had the net to grab the insects, bugs, butterflies, spiders; the spades to dig the soil), finding flora species and me... well, I was in charge of the census. It was very interesting. ;-) Afterwards, we had to go home and bring the species to school where we presented what we found.
Look at my picture. Reggie, one of my team-mates, took it. It's striking how time flies. I'm wondering where all those friends are.
So it was a memorable day in Ambohimanga. I was far away from school, from home though I was still within 20km-span from Tana and 5km from home...