Royal Hill of Ambohimanga
Royal Hill Of Ambohimanga
Cultural Madagascar Africa Municipality Of Ambohimanga Rova, Province Of Antananarivo Avaradrano

The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is the most significant symbol of the cultural identity of the people of Madagascar. Its traditional design, materials and layout are representative of the social and political structure of Malagasy society from at least the 16th century.

The growth in Madagascar of a fragmented political structure based on local lords meant that, from the 15th century onwards, defensible hills were in demand for the construction of rova (fortified royal enclosures). On the summits, woodland was kept for practical and spiritual reasons but the forest on lower ground was cleared to provide the economic base for such places to exist. Agricultural terraces were also constructed on the lower hill-slopes. In effect, the cultural landscape was in place by the 16th century. The only major change since then has been the removal of upland forest on the neighbouring heights to Ambohimanga during the French colonial period. In March 1897 the remains of royalty were transferred to Antananarivo by the French authorities in a failed attempt to erase the holiness of the site and the nationalistic legitimacy attached to it. The tombs were demolished and military buildings erected for the garrison on the site. It continued to be used for religious purposes, particularly as a pilgrimage destination.

The World Heritage site consists of a royal city, a burial site (royal tombs), and a collection of sacred places (wood, spring, lake, public meeting place). It is associated with strong feelings of identity, emphasizing its sacred character. It is a pilgrimage destination within Madagascar and internationally. In addition, it possesses an architectural quality in its groups of buildings and an ecological value in its natural ecosystems which conserve numerous species of indigenous plants.

The hill carries residual forest cover which masks archaeological remains and shelters the royal city. The fortifications protected the royal city in an arrangement of banks, ditches, and fourteen stone gateways. The outer seven were built in 1787;the inner seven date to the early 18th century.

The fortified royal city consists of a coherent suite of buildings and provides a place for public functions. The space was ritually divided: the eastern sector was the sacred area, for ancestor worship and royal burial. Two holy rock-cut basins, filled with water by young virgins, played a significant role. Royal corpses rested in a wooden mortuary house, en route to the royal tombs whence royalty, as ancestors, continued to exercise powers of protection and punishment over the living from inside a holy place enclosed by a wooden fence painted in white and red, the holy colours of royalty.

The royal trees are species of Ficus and Draceana , specifically reserved for royal cities.

The seat of justice, on a huge spherical, granite rock in the northern sector, is surrounded by a brick balustrade and shaded by a royal fig tree with stone steps surrounding its trunk.

Other holy places, natural and constructed, exist both inside and outside the royal enclosure. The holy spring is natural and always flowing, exiting through two orifices beneath a drystone cover. Its water is regarded as purifying. The holy lake of Amparihy is artificial, its use being confined to royalty and ritual, such as the annual royal bath, princely circumcision, and the receipt of royal entrails. The bath is particularly symbolic, for then the king takes upon himself all the sins of the kingdom.

The sacred woods consist of indigenous plants and, in a manner now absolutely rare on the Hautes Terres, represents in residual form the natural forest which once covered this and other hills. It has survived because it was always in the royal domain, managed under strict regulations.

The agricultural terraces developed during the 17th-18th centuries on the north and south of the hill, extending the royal power into economic matters and representing on the lower slopes of a holy hill agricultural production of rice, the staple food of the local population.