Tana is surrounded by the “twelve sacred hills of Imerina”, the hilltop villages of the old Merina clans before they became a single kingdom. Some of these sites have been obscured by modern developments, but one, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ambohimanga Rova, is a significant and fascinating historical site and well worth a half-day trip (or longer). Although less well-known than the Rova in Antananarivo, it is in many ways more impressive, as it preserves intact some of the original eighteenth-century structures and brickwork of King Andrianampoinimerina, and there are tremendous views of the surrounding countryside and the northern suburbs of Tana.

Ambohimanga, now heavily forested, was originally one of four embattled Merina regional capitals, embroiled in a war of succession that lasted most of the eighteenth century. Only with Andrianampoinimerina’s military success in capturing the Rova in Tana from this stronghold was the empire united and most of Madagascar subdued under Merina rule. To this day, Ambohimanga is the Merina’s spiritual capital, but the physical integrity of the site, subject to rain erosion and cyclone damage (Cyclone Giovanna caused great destruction here in 2012, uprooting trees and lifting roofs) is under constant threat.

The hilltop site itself is an oval rova (hill fort), about 1km in length and 500m across, with the old earthworks and wall foundations of three distinct historical eras still discernible among the trees. Three of the original fourteen gateways are intact, and preserved alongside them the gigantic stone discs that at one time were rolled into place to seal the compound. The biggest of these, at the main Ambatomitsangana gate in the southwest, weighs about twelve tonnes.

Inside the rova, the oldest of the three compounds is Bevato, dating from the early eighteenth century. Higher up, the compound of Mahandrihono contains a number of restored houses, tombs and brightly painted royal pavilions. Above the other two compounds, Nanjakana, now largely overgrown, was the last to be constructed at the end of the eighteenth century.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Madagascar features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Passport to write: the runners-up!

Passport to write: the runners-up!

After weeks of deliberation, we're thrilled to announce the results of the Rough Guides and Journeys are made @gapyear.com writing competition. The winning p…

03 Jul 2015 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Incredible forests of the world

Incredible forests of the world

Spiny Forest, Madagascar On an island filled with weird and wonderful living things, the spiny forest has to be Madagascar's most unusual ecosystem. Endemic…

03 Oct 2014 • Alison Roberts camera_alt Gallery
The world's most epic cycle routes

The world's most epic cycle routes

Life on two wheels is a beautiful thing, and travel on two wheels can be epic. Here are a few of the world's greatest cycle routes to consider for your next bi…

15 Apr 2014 • Greg Dickinson camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook