By: Charlotte Cook, guest-writer
I received a request from a writer to post on my blog. No problem, I said, and here's the article. I agree with her. Tana is not exactly bursting with touristy highlights. Probably the only reason worth visiting Tana for, is..us. We are the highlight of Antanananarivo ( ha ha).
Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city, has a reputation and it’s not particularly good. Not exactly known for its up-market package holidays, the majority of people travel to the African island to sample its unique wildlife and this can seem like a prospect far removed from the bustling city. Most tourists land at the capital city's airport (with some cheap flights available at certain times of year) before heading off on their travels but you can not visit a country without visiting its capital.
If you want to get the best out of Antananarivo, you have to be prepared to do some walking, and a lot of this is up and down hills. The highest point is 2643m above sea level, making the city one of the highest capitals in the world, but even at an average height of 1400m means that packing some decent walking shoes is advisable. The effects of altitude also need to be considered, whilst it is wise to prepare for a temperate, rather than an equatorial, climate due to the height of the city. The rainy season is between November and April, which is something else for tourists to bear in mind.
|Rova Queen's Palace|
If you accept the need to climb hundreds of stone steps if you wish to see the main sights, you will discover a city rich in cultural, historical and architectural attractions, albeit one which is quietly crumbling. The highlights are definitely the Queen’s Palace (Rova), which is a long walk from the hotel district and the nearby Prime Minister’s Palace. However, the former was destroyed by fire some fifteen years ago and is merely a shell.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Antananarivo was the capital of the Merina monarchs and they conquered the rest of Madagascar from here. Buildings from this era were typically made out of wood or rushes before the introduction of stone in 1869, so few survive. Some of the timber palaces from the pre-stone era still sit atop the ridge on which the capital is built and provide an Indonesian influence to the city. Since then, buildings from the French colonial era have been dominant. These include more palaces, Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and civil buildings including hospitals and colleges.
The pastel terracotta of the buildings blends seamlessly with the rice paddies, which are prevalent throughout the capital. Visiting the markets is definitely worth it, particularly The Lemur Park, which is 45 minutes out of the city and has a good restaurant.
Walking is definitely the best way to see the city but the poverty is endemic. Beggars will hassle tourists for money, so remember to keep your guard but a forceful ‘Non, merci’ should see them leave you alone.