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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.Read more
A guide is recommended for wandering around, especially in the central areas, which are filled with market places and a mix of traditional Indonesian and French-inspired architecture. There are handful of museums; the Musée Andafivaratra, housed in a baroque palace, contains treasures from the Merina dynasty, powerful rulers of the island before the French arrived whilst the Musée d’Art et d’ Archéologie offers a view of the principal excavations on the island along with tribal artefacts.