Exploring the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga in Madagascar

Royal Hill Ambhimanga

Madagascar, a land of vibrant culture and stunning landscapes, is home to a remarkable site that bears witness to the country’s rich history and spiritual traditions – the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga.

Nestled amidst the lush greenery near the capital city of Antananarivo, Ambohimanga stands as a symbol of royal power and sacred significance. This historical site offers visitors a glimpse into the bygone era of Malagasy royalty.

Royal Hill Ambohimanga
What a view from Royal Hill, Ambohimanga in Madagascar | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

Here are 8 fascinating things I learned about the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga during my stay in Madagascar.

1. Rich Historical Significance

The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga holds great historical and cultural importance in Madagascar.

1.1. The Founding of Ambohimanga

Ambohimanga was founded by King Andrianampoinimerina, a visionary ruler who dreamed of creating a prosperous and unified kingdom. He chose this hilltop location for its strategic advantages and breathtaking views. He ruled from 1787 to 1810 and had 12 wives.

1.2. The role of Ambohimanga in Malagasy History

Ambohimanga became the spiritual and political centre of the kingdom, playing a pivotal role in the unification and expansion of Madagascar. It served as a stronghold against invasions, a place of worship, and a residence for royalty.

Royal Hill Ambohimanga
Main entrance gate to Royal Hill of Ambohimanga | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

2. UNESCO World Heritage Site

Recognised for its outstanding universal value, Ambohimanga was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Its preservation is crucial for future generations to appreciate and learn from.

Ambohimanga UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ambohimanga was desgnated as a UNSECO World Heritage site in 2001 | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

3. Impressive Architecture

The hill is adorned with impressive stone structures, including royal palaces, tombs, and sacred sites.

3.1 The Rova (Royal Palace Complex)

At the heart of Ambohimanga lies the magnificent Rova, a royal palace complex that showcases the architectural prowess of the Merina people. The walls of the compounds were built using a special kind of cement made from sand, shells, and… wait for it… 16 million egg whites!

Royal Palace Ambohimanga Madagascar
The Rova, Royal Palace Complex at Ambohimanga | Image credit: Canva

Inside the Rova there are two palaces. One is the Traditional Palace built in 1788.

Royal Palace Ambohimanga
King Andrianampoinimerina’s traditional palace at Ambohimanga | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

Behind the king’s traditional palace lies a hidden gem – The Sacred Pool – used once a year for a royal bath by the king in the company of his 12 wives and esteemed guests.

Sacred pool Ambohimanga Madagascar
Sacred pool at Ambohimanga traditionally used for Royal Baths | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

Afterwards his bathwater was considered sacred and was delivered to waiting devotees.

The other palace is called the Summer Palace – built in a French-European style. It was made for Queen Ranavalona I and was constructed by a French engineer named Jean Laborde in 1870. Rumour has it that Laborde and Queen Rana were more than just friends!

Summer Palace Ambohimanga
Queen Rananalova’s Palace at Ambohimanga built by Jean Laborde | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

The palanquin (carrying chair) was used by the missionaries as a means of transport to Antananarivo and back. The king and queen had much larger ones and they were excessively decorated.

Palanquin at Ambohimanga
Palanquin, used to carry missionaries to Antananarivo and back | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

4. Spiritual Significance

Visiting Ambohimanga provides a rare opportunity to witness traditional Malagasy rituals and ceremonies. From the chanting of ancestral hymns to the offerings of zebu (cows) sacrifices, these age-old practices offer a fascinating insight into the spiritual beliefs of the Malagasy people.

Entrance to slaughtering space of zebu (cows) for sacrifices | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

Note to visitors: You will see various offerings such as zebu horns, blood, sweets and honey at various locations (shrines) around the compound. Do not disturb these sacred spots and never point at them with your fingers outstretched as Ambohimanaga is steeped in superstitions, myths and legends.

ambohimanga shrine
Sovereigns’ enthronement stone and place for sacrifice | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt

According to one legend, the hill was created by the gods who sent a lightning bolt to strike the ground, forming the elevated site. Another tale tells of a sacred tree that grew on the hill, believed to have possessed magical powers. These legends add an air of mystery and enchantment to Ambohimanga’s rich history.

Ambohimanga Royal Hill Tree
Ficus tree at Ambohimanga – 12 stones representing 12 wives | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

5. Breathtaking Views

Situated on a hilltop, the Royal Hill offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Visitors can marvel at the beauty of the lush greenery and the city of Antananarivo in the distance.

Visitors exploring views from Ambohimanga | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt

6. Cultural Traditions

The local community surrounding Ambohimanga continues to preserve their cultural traditions and practices. Visitors can witness traditional ceremonies and experience the warmth of Malagasy hospitality.

Ambohimanga meal
Experience the warmth of Malagasy hospitality at Ambohimanga | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

7. Conservation Efforts

The ecological importance of the surrounding area of Ambohimanga cannot be overstated. The diverse ecosystem supports a delicate balance of flora and fauna, contributing to the overall biodiversity of Madagascar. The pristine forests help regulate the climate, purify the air, and provide a habitat for endangered species. Conservation projects aim to safeguard the site’s unique biodiversity and promote sustainable tourism.

Ambohimanga flower
Conservation projects safeguard Ambohimanga’s fauna and flora | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

8. Educational and Tourist Destination

Ambohimanga serves as an educational destination, where visitors can learn about Madagascar’s history, culture, and natural heritage. It attracts tourists from around the world who seek to immerse themselves in the island’s rich heritage.

Ambohimanga promotes sustainable tourism | Image credit: Zaritha van Wyngaardt.

Explore the wonders of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga with The Obvious Choice and delve into the captivating stories that have shaped Madagascar’s past and present.


With our well-travelled CEO, Zaritha van Wyngaardt at the helm; we offer corporates, leisure and group travellers the support to enjoy authentic travel and events in a variety of vibrant local and international destinations.

South African Safari
Zaritha van Wyngaardt, Owner and Founder of The Obvious Choice.

From smaller intimate gatherings to elaborate productions; our clients benefit from the dedicated attention of an efficient, close-knit team of driven and agile experts with decades of experience in the logistics of travel and event management; and an extensive established network of notable suppliers to meet any client’s need.

Contact us today to discuss the right event or incentive packages for your team’s needs and take your company performance to another level.

For further information, visit The Obvious Choice website; like our page on Facebook and follow our experiential travel adventures on Instagram.