Even if you’re only pausing in Fianar for a break and a bite to eat, the alleys and houses of the Haute Ville – also known as the old town, or Tanana Ambony – make for a captivating, and surprisingly panoramic, walk. Vehicles have to be parked in front of the Ambozontany Cathedral at the foot of the main staircase-lane that runs up the old town hill. To avoid hassle, and to be informed along the way, it’s a good idea to take a good guide. It’s only a ten-minute walk up to the crown of the hill, where multiple beautiful old houses are in various states of repair, some actively being restored and lived in, others invaded by weeds (in 2008 a private American non-profit, the World Monuments Fund, included the old town of Fianar as one of the 100 most threatened historical sites in the world). Many of the houses have brick columns supporting their first-floor ornamental balconies (or lavarangana).

A thirty-minute promenade along the cobbled pathway takes you right around the hilltop. Look west and you’ll see Lac Anosy (copied from the lake of the same name in Tana by Queen Ranavalona I, who moved her court to Fianar in 1830), a popular late afternoon strolling area for locals. Past the 1859 Antranobiriky church at the summit you’ll reach a dusty school playground, where a plaque commemorates this as the site of the nineteenth-century Merina rova. A low fence of brightly painted stakes still symbolically protects the site along its western boundary.

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