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Lifting the veil on the mystery of the sacred hills in the south of Madagascar

Lifting the veil on the mystery of the sacred hills in the south of Madagascar

ANTSAHADINTA (17 km south-west of Antananarivo, via Ampitafika, at PK 8 of the RN 1)

This hilly wooded area rises to 1,400 meters and overlooks the Sisaony Valley. The village was established around 1725 and is spread across three terraces connected by stairs – the modern settlement has moved down to the plain near the road.

On the second terrace, above the church and parking lot, lie Andriamangarira, founder of Antsahadinta, and Rabodozafimanjaka, one of twelve wives of King Andrianampoinimerina who was tasked with governing the village after a local tyrant was removed from power. Unfortunately, she was suspected of political schemes against her royal husband and underwent an ordeal called tangena (“poison”) which led to her death. Some remnants remain from the Rova that once stood next to these stone tombs.

The third terrace holds the tomb of Andriamboatsimarofy, who ruled over Antananarivo before being overthrown by Andrianampoinimerina and dying in exile in 1794.

Lastly, there is a tomb for General Ratsimihara who passed away in 1889. His descendants reside in the neighboring large wooden house.

The SISAONY Valley

Antsahadinta’s visit can be part of a trip along the Sisaony River, from Ampitatafika to Ambatofotsy on the RN7. This day excursion can be done by 4×4, motorcycle, mountain bike, or even on foot if you get dropped off at Ampitatafika and catch a taxi-brousse at Ambatofotsy.

From Ambohijoky, there’s an 8 km track following the bends of the Sisaony River. The bridge at PK 22 of RN7 is a popular Sunday walking spot for locals. Near a forest station, strawberries and roses grown between Ambohijoky and Ambatofotsy are sold there.

Ambohijoky is a large agricultural town located 10 km southeast of Antsahadinta. Heading north towards Anosizato from here, then turning east at Soalandy to reach Ampandrana which is about 3 km away.

AMPANDRANA

This site, perched on the ridge of Ambohitraina, is known as the birthplace of the Merina monarchy. It’s said that Rafandrana, the first Merina king, settled here after defeating the Vazimba. People travel from afar to leave offerings at his tomb and those of other princes nearby. The village of Ambohimasimbola sprawls at the foot of the hill.

To get there, take the track leading to RN7 in Antsinanatsena. Follow this national road towards the capital until Andoharanofosy, then head southeast on the road to Ambohijanaka for about 2 km.

MERIMANJAKA

In the 16th century, two queens named Rangita and Rafohy lived on a hill in the middle of swamps. The village with only one stone gate is still occupied today. It’s believed that Rangita’s tomb stands to the north of the central square. As for Rafohy, it is said she rests in Alasora. When the two queens passed away, their internal organs were placed in two silver canoes and submerged in the swamps.

AMBOHIJANAKA (4km south of Merimanjaka)

This 17th-century fortified village has stone gates and beautiful traditional houses. It was the birthplace of Andriamasinavalona, who ruled Antananarivo from 1675 to 1710.

Heading north from the village, take the track that runs along a ridge towards Alasora for 6 km.

ALASORA

Andriamanelo, son of Rangita and father of Ralambo, chose this hill overlooking the Ikopa valley as the location for his capital. It is said that he was the first king to use “flying irons,” iron-tipped spears, allowing him to defeat the Vazimba people who used only “reed spears with clay tips.”

At certain times, people come to make offerings and sacrifice cattle at his tomb. The village is also famous for its earthenware pottery, which can be seen along the road to Mandrangombato in the south of the area.

From Mandranbato, you can travel to Alatsinainy on the Ikopa riverbank. The small road runs alongside the river until it reaches Ambohimanambola bridge 6 kilometers north.

AMBOHIMANAMBOLA

The village of Ambohimanambola, located 3 km east of the industrial town of the same name, once housed Kelimalaza, the oldest and most revered of fifteen royal talismans. These talismans were ordered to be burned in 1869 by Queen Ranavalona II after her conversion to Christianity. The objects were considered sacred and were subject to various taboos (fady). The village was off-limits to foreigners, horses, pigs, goats, and firearms.

Returning to Antananarivo involves following the banks of the Ikopa River, with a paved road all the way up to Ankadintratombo Bridge.

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