After the crowds, noise and pollution of Antananarivo, the village of Ambohimanga radiates peace and tranquillity. The taxi brousse leaves us right at the Ambatomitsanaga, a traditional gateway with a huge stone disk, called vavahady. It would be rolled by twenty soldiers to either open or close the gate. From here, we follow a stone path leading up the Rova. We pass the Ambavahaditsiombiomby, believed to be the most ancient of gateways of the Rova, consisting of boulders through which you can walk. Higher up, we find carved wooden doors, with the Rova depicted, as well as a zebu head with horns carved out of stone. Around the corner, we reach the Fidasiana-Bevato esplanade, an open space under the shade of enormous sacred aviavy trees. We find zebu horns attached to the trunk of some trees: left here by pilgrims to this culturally and spiritually important site.
Stone stairs lead to yet another stone gateway, with some twists and turns. We are inside the Mahandrihono compound, the best preserved section of the Rova of Ambohimanga. There is a watchtower, and a pen where sacred zebus would be kept, before they were sacrificed on special occasions. Stone stairs lead to another gateway. Ahead of us, we see tombs containing the remains of Merina royals. On our left rises the dark Mahandrihono palace, constructed of rose wood. We step in with our right foot first. The high roof is supported by an enormous pole. There are several items on display like weapons and drums, and a bed on stilts. We leave this humble palace backwards, as is tradition. Next to the Mahandrihono palace, we find the summer palace of Queen Ravanalona I.
The first and bigger one is the Fandriampahalemana, with a hall for receiving visitors at ground level, while the bedroom of the queen is on the first level, considered a sacred place by pilgrims who come here to pray. The summer palace contains European furniture, mirrors, and gifts to the queen. Attached to it is the Tranofitaratra waiting room, or house of glass. The queen used it for consultation with her ministers, and the glass on four sides allowed her to keep an eye on the surroundings. Like the mirrors in the dining room through which the queen could check that no one was poisoning her food, another sign of the vigilance of the queen against possible adversaries. Behind the palaces stand the tombs of the royals, and a little further, basins used as royal pools. After the royals had used them, the water was considered sacred and distributed to the people. It is interesting to see the many Malagasy groups come to visit the palace, showing their respect to this important place, to the rich history of their country before it was colonized by the French. Walking further uphill from the palace, there is a rocky outcrop which allows unobstructed views towards the south. From here, it is easy to see the Rova of Antananarivo across the rice paddies below. Having the summer palace here makes perfect sense.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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