The Manjakamiadana Rova (also named Queen's Palace) is the landmark of Antananarivo. Situated at the top of Analamanga Hill, the rova clearly stands out in the skyline of Tana and can be seen from a far distance. From the 17th century to the 19th century the rova served as a residence for the kings and queens of the Merina kingdom.
The original structure of the palace was made of wood, which was changed to stone on order of Queen Ranavalona II in 1869. In 1995 a fire almost completely destroyed the palace, sparing only the stone walls. Since 2005 the palace has been in a state of restoration, which depending on the political situation in the country stops now and then.
Although the palace is still closed, the location is well worth a visit. Against a small fee, guides will take visitors along a 15-minute trail encircling the palace property whilst explaining the history of the location and various adjoining buildings. Due to its location, the palace offers great panoramic views onto the city and the Twelve Sacred Hills.
Note: Visitors are advised to keep an eye on their belongings as pickpocketing is commonplace in this area.
The Rova of Antananarivo
Text from Passport for Madagascar - 44th edition, January/February 2008
In the Rova of Antananarivo during the period of the Merina royalty, it was taboo to use any other construction materials apart from wood to build the royal house. On her accession to the throne, Queen Ranavalona II ended this tradition and introduced stone specifically for the construction of the Rova church. Because of the very nature of the construction entirely in wood, the Rova was annihilated during a fire on 6 November 1995 in a few hours, watched helplessly by the population. Only the stone walls of the church were capable of resisting this catastrophe, but everything in wood went up in flames (roofs, beams, furnishings, decoration). This was why out of all the buildings in the Rova, it was the first to be entirely restored and this was done fairly quickly when, ten years after the criminal fire, work on the reconstruction of the site began.
The word rova designates the group of royal houses constructed within a wooden wall which no one dared to enter as it was the residence of the sovereign having the earthy status of God the Creator and stemming from this, everything connected with him (his house, his personal belongings, his herds of zebus, the water he drank, etc.) was considered sacred and violation of these prohibitions was punishable by death.
The founder of the Rova of Antananarivo was King Andrianjaka who reigned there from 1610 to circa 1630: there he first built two houses entirely in wood for himself and his family and whose architecture had remained the same over centuries; subsequently other buildings appeared, each bearing a name as at this time writing was unknown, this was the means devised for each sovereign to mark his passage on earth. The Rova with its wooden houses has existed for six centuries. Each new sovereign had the duty of repairing these houses damaged by the elements or to build a new one. Out of respect for the first King Andrianjaka, all his successors have continued to maintain his two houses named Besakana and Masoandrotsiora which survived throughout the ages.
Two sovereigns have contributed to the present-day aspect of the Rova: King Andrianampoinimerina and Queen Ranavalona I. The latter had the largest mansion, named Manjakamiadana, built by Jean Laborde as well as the surrounding stone retaining wall. The site of Manjakamiadana has become the symbol of the city of Antananarivo.
This great royal house in the Rova has become the symbol of royalty in Imerina.
It was Queen Ranavalona I (1828 - 1861) who conceived the idea of having this building, constructed entirely of rare wood, following an architecture differing from other existing houses, and which had only one single room and two openings: one door and one window. The palace of Manjakamiadana (where one rules in peace), as this was the name given by its owner, possesses two floors and attics, a large number of openings and the whole surrounded by a wooden balcony, which for that time was revolutionary.
In common with all wooden constructions, this palace rested on a central pillar, a giant palisander trunk 39 metres high and this piece of wood was, according to some, brought up from the forests of the southeast, and to others from the forest of the east by ten thousand men. The sovereign had the right to call on her subjects to accomplish difficult tasks. These forced labourers were not paid for the work exacted by the sovereign but received rice and zebu meat from the royal herds for the duration of their labour.
As at this time wheeled vehicles did not yet exist, this trunk of wood was carried by foot on the backs of labourers as it could not touch the ground.
The construction of this palace began in 1839 and the surveyor was Jean Laborde who deployed all his genius in marrying traditional Malagasy and European styles by the sole use of wood. He created galleries, three huge superimposed halls each having an area of 360 square metres. In the enormous ground floor he set out the magnificent throne room with precious woods and on the 48 metres high roof ridge placed a bronze eagle with wings spread as the symbol of royal power. From this time on the palace of Manjakamiadana riveted the attention as if it was the Rova's only royal house and to such a degree that the entire group of buildings was designated under the name of Queen's Palace. Although next to it was the Manampisoa house built by Queen Rasoherina eclipsed by the majesty of the grand palace.
Over the years, Manjakamiadana deteriorated and some of the wood began to rot, and this resulted in 1868 in the idea of Queen Ranavalona II to have it surrounded by a masonry shell and James Cameron, the English architect and missionary, was entrusted with this work.
When the fire broke out on 6 November 1995, everything in wood was consumed by the fire leaving only the stone carapace surrounding the edifice. This grand palace is being reconstructed by a team entirely committed to the Malagasy people being able one day to see the completion of this monument - a witness to their past and their identity.
The Royal Necropolis
In the Rova of Antananarivo, both living and dead rub shoulders as the royal necropolis was built within the wall. The first tomb to be constructed there was that of the first King, Andrianjaka, who died around 1630. This sovereign, having new ideas about royal sepultures, decided to have his tomb topped by a small wooden house to distinguish it from the common of mortals and to avoid any risk of it being trodden on by the ignorant.
A royal tomb is made of a deep cellar in which are placed flagstones and each one destined for a single king. Unlike the usual tombs there, are no shelved resting places. It is above this cavity, banked up after the burial of the coffin when the funeral is over, that the small wooden house or trano manara (cold house) is constructed. From this time on this would single out the tombs of families belonging to the nobility. Even today these tombs topped with a trano manara can be seen in the Antananarivo area.
Andranjaka's successors were buried each in an individual tomb, resulting in the series of seven aligned small houses called the Fitomiandalana. However, two of them were excluded from this necropolis: the first Razakatsitakatrandriana, because of his destitution and the second, Andriambalohery, for having contracted leprosy, an illness considered contagious at the time.
On the death of Radama I in July 1828, a modern tomb was constructed for him by the English architect Gros, assistant to the dead king. Another in a similar style was built next to it for Queen Rasoherina in 1868. Thus, since this period two types of funerary architecture can be seen in the Rove: the traditional represented by the Fitomiandalana and the new, incarnated by the two edifices in dressed stone. Initially, the ancient necropolis was situated near the site of the stone church but for unknown reasons, it was transferred elsewhere on the orders of the French Governor, General Galliéni.
At the same time, this French representative ordered the demolition of the royal necropolis, dating from the end of the 17th century situated in the Rova d'Ambohimanga, where the Kings Andriantsimitoviaminandriana, Andriambelomasina and Andrianamponimerina reposed. In 1861, Queen Ranavalona I was buried there followed in 1883 by Queen Ranavalona II. All the royal remains were moved to the necropolis in Antananarivo and since this time the kings of Ambohimanga (Andriantsimitoviaminandriana, Andriambelomasina, Andrianamponimerina and Radama II, exhumed from his tomb in Ilafy) were placed in the mausoleum of Radama I. The queens Ranavalona I, Ranavalona II and the other female members of their families were placed in that of Rasoherina.