A day out in Tana

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East A day out in Tana

View from the Rova

We had a later start today as we were going on a city tour rather than searching for wildlife. Yet the first highlight of the day proved to be wildlife, in the shape of the pretty red fody birds visiting the jacaranda tree opposite our breakfast table. One cheeky bird even flew on to the terrace and started pecking at the cakes through a hole in their cover.

Red fody

Red fody enjoying breakfast!

Unsurprisingly perhaps I didn’t take any of those cakes, instead ordering granola and yoghurt from the a la carte options, which proved to be a good choice. Also good was the coffee, way above the usual hotel standard in any country!

Michel and Solu picked us up at 9.00 and to my surprise we drove through the city centre and up the hill to the Upper Town. Surprise, because we'd been told before our departure that the city centre wasn’t safe at present because of the protests about the election and we would only be able to visit out of town sites. But we were confident that Michel knew what he was doing and besides, the city was relatively quiet because it was Sunday.

Madagascar’s capital city actually has a very long name, Antananarivo, which is a bit of a tongue twister. Luckily, most people, including locals, abbreviate it to Tana. It was established in the early 17th century as the capital of the Merina kingdom which covered much of this part of the island. Their king, Andrianjaka, built a rova (fortified royal dwelling) on one of its hills which expanded to become the kingdom’s royal palace. It was that rova, or rather its very recent reconstruction, that was one of the highlights of our tour.

The Rova

This isn’t a single building, although one dominates, but an entire complex. We learned that the all of it had burned down in 1995 shortly before it was due to be inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (possibly an accident, possibly arson: our guide here, Jackie, wouldn’t be drawn on which she thought it was). This reconstruction has only recently opened, delayed by Covid.

We entered the complex beneath a gate topped by a bronze eagle (imported from France in 1840) and found ourselves in a courtyard with the layout of a semi-formal garden.

Eagle over the entrance gate

To our left Jackie pointed out a group of royal tombs and a small wooden palace building, Tranovola. Like all the buildings here this is a replica. It was originally painted red, with a white roof and verandas and silver decorations, hence the name which means Silver House. I don’t know if you can go inside but I suspect not. Jackie was so thorough I’m pretty sure we would have done so if it were possible!



We spent most of our visit in the museum in the main building, called Manjakamiadana. This too was originally wooden. But in the mid 19th century Queen Ranavalona II commissioned James Cameron to reinforce and encase the original structure in a stone shell. Cameron is described by Wikipedia as, ‘British artisan missionary with a background in carpentry’ who had introduced brick-making to the country. I guess that’s how he came to be involved not only in this building but several others in the complex. Certainly Jackie mentioned him several times, in a manner that suggested we must have heard of him!


The museum tells the story of the line of Merina rulers, kings and queens, from the establishment of the monarchy until the French conquest in the late 19th century, when the then-queen was sent into exile in Algeria. Ahead of our visit I confess I knew little of Malagasy history before the French colonial period, so all of this was new to me. And there was so much there that I absorbed only the basics. But that certainly isn’t the fault of Jackie, who was very thorough, pointing out every single item on display inside! I liked best the costumes, some of the paintings and the rather effective hologram films on the upper floor telling the story of the French invasion and conquest. But I was disappointed that no photography was permitted inside.

We also got some great views of the city from the second and third floor galleries, where we were allowed to take photos. The photo at the top of this page shows the view from the second floor, while the ones below were taken from the third.


Views from the Rova

After visiting the main Palace building Jackie led us around the complex, pointing out various smaller palaces. We went into the church, built for Ranavalona II, a queen who had converted to Christianity. Again, no photography was permitted inside.

Church, Besakana and colosseum, Rova

Nearby was a slightly odd (because very modern-looking) small coliseum; another smaller wooden palace (I think Besakana); and some old columns from a palace building, Tsarahafatra, which Jackie told us was bombed by the French.


The ruins of Tsarahafatra

The middle town

After a few more photos of the views we said goodbye to Jackie and returned to the car. Solu drove us through streets busy with people shopping or selling from market stalls that in places seemed to be squeezed into very small spots on the pavement. I tried, but failed, to take a few photos from the car! But it was easier when we got out to visit an area in the middle town. We went to a chocolate shop and bought an excellent bar of 75% dark chocolate which we shared with our guide Michel and later with Solu. As we ate we had a walk around the area passing some ministries, the president’s former palace, and a monument to those who died in the uprising against French rule. We finished near a place Michel called the embankment, from where we could look down the Queen’s Stairs which connect the middle town to the lower one.

Monument to the fallen (detail)

Monument to the fallen, and looking down the Queen's Stairs

The lower town

We then drove down to the lower town, as my bad leg would have struggled with the long staircase.

Looking up the Queen's Stairs, and a sign in the market below

Market scene

We walked through part of the market (fairly quiet as it was a Sunday) and streets also dotted with vendors. The perfect opportunity for some street photography.



Street scenes

We finished our tour with a walk along the Avenue de Independence, which Michel described as Tana’s Champs Elysee. It was closed to all traffic because there had been angry protests in the city against the incumbent president whom, Michel said, was thought to be ‘buying’ success in the forthcoming election. We’d been warned we might not be able to tour the city centre because of the protests. But as it was Sunday no protests were expected and it was clear that locals considered the area to be safe as many families were out enjoying their day off.

The Avenue de l'Indépendance

We strolled the full length of the avenue to the main station at the far end where Solu picked us up. We wanted to get a cold drink somewhere, so Michel recommended a café attached to the photograph museum back in the upper town. However when we got there it was full, but Chris remembered an alternative place he’d seen earlier quite near our hotel. He thought Michel knew which place he was describing but he turned out to have a different one in mind, even nearer the hotel. No matter, that one was lovely with some cats to watch (including a kitten), friendly service, ice cold drinks and free WiFi so that Michel and I could connect on WhatsApp and stay in touch about the details and timing of our flight tomorrow to Diego Suarez. The flight is due to depart at 6.10, meaning a very early pick-up at the hotel (4.30) but apparently it is often delayed, and it would be a shame to get up that early if it proves not necessary!

Cat and kitten in the lakeside café

I'd expected our day out in Tana to be rather longer and incorporate more sights. On the other hand, we'd got a good look at the city, learned a lot about Malagasy history and given my still very sore leg quite a workout. So when Michel started to say goodbye I didn’t demur, and neither did Chris.

We returned to the hotel to relax for a bit then went out again for a stroll along the lakeside. We found a pleasant café terrace attached to a spa (and this was the place Chris had spotted earlier) where I had a delicious infusion of lemon, ginger and hibiscus sweetened with honey. It was a lovely spot to watch some of the activity on and around the lake, including a couple of fishermen and an egret.

Lakeside scene

Young fishermen

In the evening we again ate in the hotel restaurant. I had the zebu carpaccio starter that Chris had had and liked yesterday. It was very good although not quite as much so as the one at Mantadia Lodge! For my main course I played it safe and went for the chicken burger, which was huge and pretty good, with excellent fries. Neither of us had room for dessert, unless you count the glass of local rum we both enjoyed!

Zebu carpaccio

In the restaurant

Around 10.00 PM I received a message from Michel. 'Get an early night', he said, 'the flight is due to depart on time and I'll be picking you up at 4.30'. And so that is exactly what we did!

This featured blog entry was written by ToonSarah from the blog Travel with me ....
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By ToonSarah

Posted Wed, Dec 13, 2023 | Madagascar | Comments