The capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo is a senses-shattering mixture of high and lowbrow, new and old, poverty and relative affluence. After landing at the airport, many make a beeline to more remote areas of the island. Yet a few days in ‘Tana’ (as it is known the locals) will provide insight into Madagascar’s culture and colonial past, not to mention its wonderful, French-influenced cuisine.
Breathtakingly situated on the centre of the island on the summit of a rocky ridge, Tana is unusual (for Africa) in the fact that it was a capital city before colonialism. It was the French though that added infrastructure, building roads and flights of steps connecting the various levels, as well a central area known as Andohalo, which contains the city's cathedral, terraces and public gardens. Also unusual are the urban rice paddies, which patchwork the city in a brilliant green. But Antananarivo is is far from a showpiece. Cheek by jowl with the clusters of new-ish administrative buildings and hotels, poverty is tangible and there are recent indicators that it is getting worse - currently about 70% of the country’s population lives on less than one dollar per day. Disparity in Madagascar is at its most vivid in the capital, and organised begging is common, particularly from children.