The Palais Andafiavaratra – the palace of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who effectively ruled the Merina empire from 1864 to 1896 while kings and queens came and went – is a pompous colossus of a building, with a turret at each corner, built by the missionary architect William Pool in 1872. The upper storeys are closed to the public, but the ground floor now serves as the Musée Andafiavaratra, also known as the Prime Minister’s Palace Museum, which mostly displays items rescued from the 1995 fire that destroyed most of the Rova’s buildings. The collection will eventually transfer to the Musée Rova Manjakamiadana when the royal palace restoration is complete, which could take years.

The Merina monarchy room

Devoted entirely to the Merina monarchy, the first room chronicles the dynasty in portraits, photos, gifts and regal ephemera – plus an assortment of royal treaties. Take a moment to pause in front of the fascinating painting of Malagasy ambassadors visiting Queen Adelaide, the wife of William IV of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1837. Portrait copies of all the old Merina kings and queens line the walls, including the traditionally robed, spear-wielding founder of Tana, Andrianampoinimerina (r. 1787–1810), his son King Radama I (r. 1810–28), and his first wife, the “Cruel Queen” Ranavalona I (r. 1828–61), who became notorious for ejecting the missionaries and condemning Christians to be hurled from the nearby cliffs. She was succeeded by her son, the Napoleonically attired Radama II, whose short and injudiciously non-traditional reign (r.1861–63) ended in his assassination at the hands of associates of the future prime minister, Rainilaiarivony, who had been Ranavalona’s private secretary. Radama II was succeeded by his wife, Queen Rasoherina (r. 1863–68), who married Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony and was the first constitutional, rather than absolute, monarch in Madagascar. Her mementoes include a clock showing the hour and date of her death. Queen Ranavalona II (r. 1868–83) also took Rainilaiarivony as consort and invited the Protestants back to Madagascar to help with industrialization. In the latter part of the century there were regular royal visits to Europe (see the press photo of Malagasy ambassadors apparently on a trade mission to Berlin with Queen Victoria in 1883).

Main hall and side rooms

The palace’s main hall and side rooms include a collection consisting largely of photos, documents and paintings (or copies of paintings). One of the most impressive exhibits is the striking fossil skeleton of a Majungasaurus, a fearsome dinosaur from the Berivotra fossil fields near Majunga. Also worthy of scrutiny are the fascinating nineteenth-century photos of Tana scenes, captured by William Ellis (note the photo of the 15,000-strong crowd assembled by the royal palace on the accession of Queen Rasoherina in 1863) and a series of ethnic paintings of tribal representatives. Look out, too, for the very fine portrait copy, with wonderful eyes, of the evidently charismatic Queen Ranavalona III, the last queen of Madagascar, again with Rainilaiarivony as her consort. Kept in a dark room to one side, the bizarre, glass-encased model monkey orchestra seems somehow entirely in keeping with the rest of the eclectic show.

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