Antananarivo (French: Tananarive, pronounced [tananaʁiv]), also known by its colonial shorthand form Tana, is the capital and largest city of Madagascar. The administrative area of the city, known as Antananarivo-Renivohitra (“Antananarivo-Mother Hill” or “Antananarivo-Capital”), is the capital of Analamanga region. The city sits at 1,280 m (4,199 ft) above sea level in the center of the island, the highest national capital by elevation among the island countries. It has been the country’s largest population center since at least the 18th century. The presidency, National Assembly, Senate and Supreme Court are located there, as are 21 diplomatic missions and the headquarters of many national and international businesses and NGOs. It has more universities, nightclubs, art venues, and medical services than any city on the island. Several national and local sports teams, including the championship-winning national rugby team, the Makis are based here.
Antananarivo was historically the capital of the Merina people, who continue to form the majority of the city’s 1,275,207 (2018 Census) inhabitants. The surrounding urban areas have a total metropolitan population approaching three million. All eighteen Malagasy ethnic groups, as well as residents of Chinese, Indian, European and other origins, are represented in the city. It was founded circa 1610, when the Merina King Andrianjaka (1612–1630) expelled the Vazimba inhabitants of the village of Analamanga. Declaring it the site of his capital, Andrianjaka built a rova (fortified royal dwelling) that expanded to become the royal palaces of the Kingdom of Imerina. The city retained the name Analamanga until the reign of King Andriamasinavalona (1675–1710), who renamed it Antananarivo (“City of the Thousand”) in honor of Andrianjaka’s soldiers.
The city served as the capital of the Kingdom of Imerina until 1710, when Imerina split into four warring quadrants. Antananarivo became the capital of the southern quadrant until 1794, when King Andrianampoinimerina of Ambohimanga captured the province and restored it as capital of a united Kingdom of Imerina, also bringing neighboring ethnic groups under Merina control. These conquests continued under his son, Radama I, who eventually controlled over two-thirds of the island, leading him to be considered the King of Madagascar by European diplomats. Antananarivo remained the island’s capital after Madagascar was colonized by the French in 1897, and after independence in 1960.
The city is now managed by the Commune Urbaine d’Antananarivo (CUA) under the direction of its President of the Special Delegation, Ny Havana Andriamanjato, appointed in March 2014. Limited funds and mismanagement have hampered consecutive CUA efforts to manage overcrowding and traffic, waste management, pollution, security, public water and electricity, and other challenges linked to explosive population growth. Major historic landmarks and attractions in the city include the reconstructed royal palaces and the Andafiavaratra Palace, the tomb of Rainiharo, Tsimbazaza Zoo, Mahamasina Stadium, Lake Anosy, four 19th-century martyr churches, and the Museum of Art and Archaeology.
Antananarivo was already a major city before the colonial era. After expelling the Vazimba who inhabited the town at the peak of Analamanga hill, Andrianjaka chose the site for his rova (fortified royal compound), which expanded over time to enclose the royal palaces and the tombs of Merina royalty. The city was established in around 1610 or 1625 according to varying accounts. Early Merina kings used fanampoana (statute labor) to construct a massive system of irrigated paddy fields and dikes around the city to provide adequate rice for the growing population. These paddy fields, of which the largest is called the Betsimitatatra, continue to produce rice.
Successive Merina sovereigns ruled over the Kingdom of Imerina from Analamanga through King Andriamasinavalona’s reign. This sovereign gave the growing city its current name; he established the Andohalo town square outside the town gate, where all successive sovereigns delivered their royal speeches and announcements to the public, and assigned the names of numerous locations within the city based on the names of similar sites in the nearby village of Antananarivokely. Andriamasinavalona designated specific territories for the hova (commoners) and each andriana (noble) subcaste, both within the neighborhoods of Antananarivo and in the countryside surrounding the capital. These territorial divisions were strictly enforced; members of subcastes were required to live within their designated territories and were not authorized to stay for extended periods in the territories reserved for others. Numerous fady (taboos), including injunctions against the construction of wooden houses by non-nobles and the presence of swine within the city limits, were imposed.
Upon Andriamasinavalona’s death in 1710, Imerina split into four warring quadrants, and Antananarivo was made the capital of the southern district. During the 77-year civil war that followed, the eastern district’s capital at Ambohimanga rose in prominence. The last king of Ambohimanga, Andrianampoinimerina, successfully conquered Antananarivo in 1793; he reunited the provinces of Imerina, ending the civil war. He moved the kingdom’s political capital back to Antananarivo in 1794, and declared Ambohimanga the kingdom’s spiritual capital, a role it still maintains. Andrianampoinimerina created a large marketplace in Analakely, establishing the city’s economic center
During colonialism the French changed the city’s name to “Tananarive” and made it the political and economic center of the entire island of Madagascar, which they now controlled. The French restructured the city’s urban layout but preserved the historic royal palaces belonging to earlier Merina rulers. In 1910 the French finished their construction of railroad lines linking the city to coastal ports.
Madagascar received its independence from France in 1960, and Tananarive became the capital of the new nation. Twelve years later in 1972 the government renamed the city “Antananarivo.” Today Antananarivo is the economic hub of Madagascar. It produces cement, tobacco, beer, soap and textiles for international and domestic consumption. It is also home to numerous cultural institutions such as the University of Antananarivo, the Rova Palace, the Andafiavaratra Museum as well as the site of the Tsimbazaza Zoo and the Ivato International airport. Like many urban centers, Antananarivo suffers from urban blight and poor sanitation. The city’s problems have been exacerbated by Madagascar’s poverty and a 2002 civil war, which imposed additional hardships on the local population.
- Wikipedia Contributors. Antananarivo. Wikipedia. Published April 5, 2021. Accessed April 11, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antananarivo
Wade E. Antananarivo, Madagascar (1600s- ) •. Blackpast.org. Published February 11, 2015. Accessed April 11, 2021. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/antananarivo-madagascar-1600s/
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