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Madagascar: Rova Palace

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Rova Palace | Madagascar | Africa

[Visited: April 2017]

We walk the steep streets covering the hills of Antananarivo to Analamanga, formerly the highest hill of the capital city in the afternoon. In order to enlarge the terrain used on which to build the palace complex, Analamanga hill was lowered, making it the second highest hill of the city. When we come closer to the Rova, or royal palace complex, the street skirts the ridge of the hill, allowing beautiful views of the colourful andriana houses formerly used by the nobility glued to the hillside. We pass the museum, housed itself in a royal building, but sadly closed to the public, to reach the entrance of the Rova. A stone staircase leads up to a gate, on top of which we see a bronze eagle, brought here by Frenchman Jean Laborde, who worked for the Merina monarchs and was rumoured to be the lover of queen Ranavalona I. Next to the eagle stands a phallus, symbol of circumcision and therefore nobility. Through the open gate, we can already see the majestic, rectangular stone Manjamamiadana building, the queen's palace.

Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): The central courtyard of the Rova palace with the royal tombs on the left and the Manjakamiadana at the far end

Our compulsory guide accompanies us inside the compound. On our left, we see a stone platform with a red-roofed white structure, and a smaller brown structure next to it. The former is the tomb of Queen Rasoherina, while the later is the resting place of King Radama I. In the same tombs, other queens and kings are interred. Queens were esteemed higher than kings; hence the different appearance of their tombs. We walk to the east side of the complex. Below us, a rolling landscape unfolds, with house-covered hills, lakes, paddies. We start to realize how big Antananarivo really is, also because there are hardly any high-rise buildings for the approximately million and a half inhabitants. We look directly into small courtyards right below us. Our guide points out several noteworthy buildings, before he tells us more about the royal palace itself. Like other guides, he is equipped with a set of papers on which we see pictures of the former palace buildings. The complex was largely destroyed by fire in 1995. The guide tells us with certainy that the fire was started for political reasons. Fact is that, more than 20 years later, most of the buildings still lie in ruins, and the artefacts saved from the fire are still not on display in the palace building as was the intention.

Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): The tomb of Queen Rasoherina seen from below

Our guide takes us to the Mahitsy, a reconstructed wooden cottage in which the king would live. Beds were at a higher lever, and at the northeast side of the building, we see stakes in the wooden beam. They were used by the king to climb to the ceiling in case of an unannounced visitor, so his wife could receive the visitor first. Only when the situation was considered safe, would the king come down. The steep roof is impressive from the inside, as is the small space of the building. We see a statue of a woman, and a stone bible on a ship, a colonnaded ruins of the Tsarahaftra building before we get to the restored royal chapel which was exclusively used by the monarchs. Right next to the chapel is the Manjakamiadana, the queen's palace. Originally constructed from wood by Laborde, it was clad in stone by Scotsman James Cameron in 1867 for Queen Ranavalona II. It was also badly hit by the 1995 fire, and remains inaccessible for the public. What could not be destroyed by the fire is the location of the Rova. We walk to the east side of the Rova complex, which gives us unrestricted views over the hills of the city, the Anosy lake, and the downtown area. We enjoy the view and the pleasant sunshine, before we head back to the gate, and descend into bustling Antananarivo.

Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Stone columns is all that remains of the Tsarahafatra
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Detail of decorated arch in the Manjakamiadana palace building
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): The royal tombs at the Rova: Queen Rasoherina in the red and white tomb, King Radama I in the smaller, brown and white one
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): The Manjakamiadana palace survived the fire because it is made of stone
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Stairs at the backside of the royal chapel
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Bronze eagle and phallus on top of the entrance gate of the Rova
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): One of the tombstones at the Rova
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Statue of Merina ruler next to the Mahitsy building
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): The royal chapel in the afternoon
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Mahitsy building, reconstructed after the 1995 fire
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Bible standing on ship in the gardens of the Rova palace
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Sculpture of sitting woman in the garden of the palace
Picture of Rova Palace (Madagascar): Side entrance with stairs of the main palace

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