The Republic of Madagascar, previously the Republic of Malagasy, is an island country in the Indian Ocean 400km off the coast of East Africa. The second-largest island country in the world, Madagascar was colonised by the French in 1897, overthrowing the monarchy.
Even though the island gained independence in 1960, French is still the official language along with Malagasy. Most of the traditional palatial architecture was destroyed in fires but the French influences on building style are prevalent.
Here are 15 must-visit places for Architects in Madagascar:
1. Rova of Antananarivo
The palatial complex is located 1480m above sea level at Analamanga, the highest hill in Antananarivo. Captured by Andrianjaka, the king of Imerina in 1610, he built three buildings and a tomb site. Over the years, his successors altered the site by adding or removing buildings as per their convenience with the complex comprising 20 buildings during the late 18th century and only 11 remaining two centuries later.
The complex displays a variety of architectural styles, from traditional Merina to French influences in the later structures helmed by French engineer Jean Laborde. The most important structures include Manjakamiadana, the Queen’s Palace, Fiangonana, the chapel, Tranovola, Manampisoa, Besakana and other houses and Royal tombs.
A fire on the night of 6 November 1995 destroyed all the structures briefly before the complex was to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Restoration works are still underway, with a new concrete colosseum to be added.
2. The Ambohitsorohitra Palace
The former Presidential palace is located just at the end of Independence Avenue. The architect, Jully, built it in rococo style in 1890-92 for the French General Bompard. The French embassy occupied the palace from 1960 onwards till it became the presidential palace in 1976 before being abandoned in 1989. It reclaimed its status as the Presidential Palace in 2002.
The palace was attacked during the 2009 military coup. Today, it serves as the Office of the President allowing visitors to go up to a certain point on the street and photography is prohibited.
3. The Andafiavaratra Palace
The Andafiavaratra Palace located on the hilltop of Antananarivo was built by Queen Ranavalona I in wood. The current palace by English architect William Pool built in 1872 replaced the wooden palace. It served as the residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony from 1864-1895 while it was used as army barracks, court, school of fine arts, the Presidential palace and finally again as the prime minister’s office after independence.
After being burnt down in 1976, it was restored and is now a museum displaying artefacts saved from the Rova fire in 1955.
4. Le Palais de Justice d’Ambatondrafandrana(The Ambatondrafandrana Courthouse)
The Palace of Justice was constructed in 1881 under the reign of Queen Ranavalona II by English architect James Parret. This courtyard’s structure was very different from the traditional buildings in Madagascar. Built on the site of Rainimahay’s tomb, it is an open court with 16 ionic Greek columns. Kings conducted trials here.
Three motifs are carved on the southern facade—the spear called Tsy tia lainga symbolizing impartial justice, the initials R and M for the Queen’s name Ranavalomanjaka and the Royal Crown. It was registered on the National Heritage List in 1978 with renovation undertaken by the Ministry of Communication and Culture. The last renovation was in 2016 before opening up to visitors.
5. Tomb of Rainiharo
This tomb in Antananarivo was erected in memory of Prime Minister Rainiharo who died in 1852. Built in 1846-1854 by Jean Laborde with Pastor Rainitrimo. With a square plan flanked by 2 tall stelae, it is surrounded by a peristyle with 36 arches and massive copper doors.
Apart from Rainiharo and his two sons, 33 other bodies have been buried; the men in the northern bedroom and women in the southern bedroom. The tomb was recognised as a national monument in 1913 and stopped receiving bodies post-1961.
6. The Ambohimanga Hill
The Ambohimanga Hill is situated 24km northeast of Anantanavario. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the most significant cultural centre for the Merinas and the best-preserved monument of pre-colonial Madagascar. Enclosed within protective stone walls surrounded by ditches, the royal hilltop is planned as per two overlapping cosmological systems based on four cardinal directions radiating from a unified centre.
It is subdivided into 3 Rova—Mahandrihono, Bevato and Nanjakana comprising royal tombs, the summer palace of Queen Ranavalona II, residences of King Andriambelomasina and Andrianjafy and sites for royal rituals.
7. Fort Manda
The ruins of Fort Manda lie 3km northeast of the coastal town of Mahavelona. Manda, Malagasy for fortress, was built at the beginning of the 19th century by King Ramada I, serving as the residence of Governor Rafaralahy, who commanded the Royal Army. The fortress also comprised barracks, officers’ houses, an arsenal and a prison. It is the last of the five forts built by the Merinas to defend against the foreign invaders along the east coast.
Having lost to the French, the fort was plundered and later functioned as a shelter for locals, pirates and thieves. The 8m high walls of the 70m wide circular complex were built using corals and sand with eggshells serving as cement. The highest points of the ruin offer great views of the Indian Ocean and Mahavelona.
8. The L’Avenue de I ‘independence (Independence Avenue)
Located in the capital city of Antananarivo, Independence Avenue is essentially a marketplace. The street takes you back in time with the rows of colonial houses on either side.
The Independence Monument, one of the most important monuments of Madagascar is a stone monolith located on the Independence Avenue itself.
9. Monument aux Morts (Mémorial)
The Monument aux Morts is a French-built memorial to honour the martyrs of the First World War. French sculptor Barberis and architect Perrin built the memorial in 1927 on an island in Lake Anosy.
The island in the heart-shaped artificial lake by James Cameron is connected to the mainland in southern Antananavario by an isthmus. On the nation’s Independence Day, June 26, an annual firework festival is arranged on the lake.
10. The Andohalo Cathedral
The largest church in Madagascar, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral or Andohalo Cathedral in Anantnavario was commissioned in 1873 and completed in 1890. Built by the French post colonisation, it closely resembles Notre Dame in Paris with its gothic style stained glass windows and tall spires.
The marble used in the interiors stands out from the plain limestone constructions in the city. The cathedral isn’t just a holy place of worship but also stands as a memorial of human faith for the deceased in Queen Ranavalona’s bloodthirst quest for the royal throne.
11. The Antsirabe Cathedral
The Our Lady of La Salette Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church situated in Antsirabe, the third-largest city of Madagascar. Before 1900, a small clay church was established by the French priest Father Dupuy. In 1908, missionaries built a church with a clock tower. With the establishment of the Diocese of Antsirabe in 1925, a larger church was commissioned by Monsignor François Dantin which was built by architect Father Joseph Michaud.
The church with three times the length and almost double the height along with a bell tower more than twice the earlier height was completed in 1931. The parish celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2005. The church acts as a pilgrimage site in the diocese for the feast day on 19 September annually.
12. Fahaleovantena Tribes Monument (Independence Tribes Monument)
Erected at Grande Avenue in Antsirabe, the monument is dedicated to the tribes of Madagascar. A large round stone tablet to its left features the head of zebu (cattle), names of the nineteen tribes that make up the Malagasy population, the word Fahaleovantena (Malagasy for independence) and the first two measures of the national anthem of Madagascar.
With its towering height and pousse-pousse (pulled rickshaws) lined in front, it instantly catches the attention of the tourists.
13. Gare Soarano
The central Railway Station in Antananarivo was built by French architect Fouchard and supervised by contractor Cornebois in 1908-1910. It gets its name Soarano meaning good water from the backfill it was constructed on right next to a fountain. This building, on the northern end of the Independence Avenue, was revamped in 2209 by Madagascar Estates Development Partners with only freight trains passing through the station.
Of the 2 storeys, the ground floor is occupied with retail shops while the first floor is an office space. The railway platforms serve as an open restaurant terrace where cultural events also take place. With a dial installed on the pediment, it displays the architecture of 19th century France.
14. Musée De La Photographie
The former Residence of the Mayors of Antananarivo has functioned as the Museum of Photography since 2018. Located on the hilltop of Antananarivo, it offers majestic views of the Malagasy capital.
The museum is a testament to Madagascar’s rich history with a collection of over 14,000 photos captured in two centuries, from 1860-1960. It is based on traditional Merina architecture with its double-pitched roof and a veranda with brick posts.
15. Madagascar Underground
Madagascar’s first and only hostel is located in Antananarivo. The building with its vibrant colours and welcoming entrance stands apart from the surrounding environment. It’s a breath of fresh air amongst the traditional vernacular and colonial French architecture.
Just a kilometre away from Lake Anosy, the hostel, apart from its boarding, lodging and dining facilities provides adventure sports and drivers for sightseeing.