The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga consists of a royal city and burial site, and an ensemble of sacred places. It is associated with strong feelings of national identity, and has maintained its spiritual and sacred character both in ritual practice and the popular imagination for the past 500 years. It remains a place of worship to which pilgrims come from Madagascar and elsewhere.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga constitutes an exceptional witness to the civilization which developed in the ‘Hautes Terres Centrales’ in Madagascar between the 15th and 19th centuries and to the cultural and spiritual traditions, the cult of kings and ancestors which were closely associated there. The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is the cradle of the kingdom and the dynasty that has made Madagascar a modern state, internationally acknowledged since 1817. It is associated with strong feelings of identity and emotion relating to the sacred nature of the site through its venerated royal tombs, its numerous holy places (fountains, sacred basins and woods, sacrificial stones) and its majestic royal trees. Religious capital and sacred town of the kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century, the Royal Hill was the burial ground for its sovereigns. The site retains clear archaeological proof of the former exercise of power and justice. It is still today the centre of the religious practices for many Malagasy people and constitutes a living memory of the traditional religion.
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga comprises a system of fortifications with a series of ditches and fourteen fortified stone gateways, a royal city consisting of a coherent suite of buildings divided by a royal enclosure and associating a public place (the Fidasiana), royal trees, a seat of justice and other natural or built places of cult, an ensemble of sacred places as well as agricultural lands. The royal city comprises two palaces and a small pavilion, an “ox pit”, two sacred basins and four royal tombs. In addition, the designated property shelters vestiges of a primary forest conserving numerous endemic and medicinal plant species.
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga constitutes an eminent example of an architectural ensemble (the Rova) and the associative cultural landscape (wood, sacred fountain and lake) illustrating significant periods of human history between the 16th and 19th centuries in the islands of the Indian Ocean. The particularly high elevation of the Rova indicates the political importance of the site and gives it a very significant place among the fortified groups of the Imerina (region of Antananarivo). Because of its geographical position, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga offers a complete panorama, determining it as the strategic choice for a defensive residence. Thus, Ambohimanga bears witness to a strong royal power, a decision-making centre serving as a model for the future. The recognizable traditional Malagasy and European style of architecture of the royal city bears witness to the diverse political phases in the history of Madagascar.
The landscape of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is associated with important historic events (Malagasy place of unification), as well as with traditions and living beliefs having an Outstanding Universal Value (ancestor worship). The eminently sacred character of the place and its components justifies the respect and veneration that the Malagasy people have demonstrated over centuries. The site constitutes a remarkable testimony to the austro-indonesian culture (Indonesia) through ancestor worship and agricultural practices, notably irrigated stepped rice paddy fields on the one hand, and the African culture (west and southern Africa) through the cult of the royal person, on the other. The Malagasy nation accords primary importance and absolute respect of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, that they visit to imbibe the spirituality of the place, for renewal and request blessing and protection for all that they undertake in life. It is also a cult and pilgrimage place for the nation, as well as for numerous foreigners, and has been so for centuries.
Criterion (iii): The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is the most significant symbol of the cultural identity of the people of Madagascar.
Criterion (iv): The traditional design, materials and layout of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga are representative of the social and political structure of Malagasy society from at least the 16th century.
Criterion (vi): The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is an exceptional example of a place where, over centuries, common human experience has been focused in memory, ritual and prayer.
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga has preserved its visual integrity. The site is in a good state of conservation, vegetation covers the slopes of the hill evenly despite the invasion of certain exotic or local species (bambusa, lantana, pinus). The forest on the Hill constitutes the most important residual element of the primary forest, with deciduous species that in earlier times covered the interior of Madagascar. This forest contains endemic, woody and herbaceous species and medicinal plants. The abundance of “zahana” (phyllarthron madagascariensis) and medicinal plants constitute the specific character of the Ambohimanga forest. In addition, the forest has retained its regenerative powers and biogeochemical cycles, in particular that of the water, which continue to be active, ensuring the continual use of the sacred fountain and lake.
The layout at the summit of the Hill of the royal enclosure with its buildings is in conformity with the Imerina tradition, in particular, and of Madagascar in general. The sacred character of the site is manifested in the pilgrimages and sacrifices to which it is witness. The different elements that comprise it are representative of the traditional skills and beliefs: the homes of the living are made of wood and vegetation (living materials), while those of the dead are in stone (cold and inert materials). The materials used respect the construction traditions of their era. Restoration work undertaken since 1996 uses materials and construction techniques based on the traditional Malagasy skills and respects the cosmological vision of the place to preserve its authenticity. Furthermore, the sacred wooden houses, symbol of the royal tombs demolished by the French colonial authorities, were rebuilt in 2008 by the Malagasy State respecting the rites, the construction regulations and traditional materials (for the choice of wood essences in particular), due to their symbolic importance. Thus, the mortal remains of the sovereigns removed from the site in 1897 have been replaced in their original tombs to consolidate the sacredness of the site.
Protection and management requirements
The site of the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga receives adequate legal protection: incorporated into the Colony Domains Service since 1897, inscribed on the national inventory since 1939, the site benefits from the provisions of Ordinance No. 82.029 of 6 November 1982 and Decree No. 83.116 of 31 March 1983. In addition, the site also has municipal legal protection. However, there is a need to strengthen the legal framework to be compatible with the status of the property.
Since 2006, the designated property has been managed by the Office of the Cultural Site of Ambohimanga (OSCAR). This public establishment, created by the Ministry of Culture, has an Administration Council (deliberative body), a Scientific Monitoring Commission and a Management Planning Commission (consultative body) that work in close cooperation with the Conservator of the site. About thirty employees ensure the implementation of the 5-year management plan prepared in 2006. At the local level, the Rural Commune of the Ambohimanga Rova collaborates with the OSCAR to strengthen security at the site. The Village Committee, comprising representatives of all the adjacent quarters and the local community, (tradi-practitioners) are also involved in the protection of the site. The OSCAR manages the income from entrance fees and State subventions.
The spontaneous development of exotic species (bambusa and lantana) constitutes a threat which over time could degrade the natural landscape. Eradication actions have been undertaken but should be reinforced to rapidly and definitively replace these exotic species by endemic species. The risk of fire is another threat for the site (forest, buildings) and it is necessary to identify the financial partners able to contribute towards providing the designated property with an adequate fire-fighting system. Finally, the lack of town planning for the domain of the Rural Commune of Ambohimanga results in the local inhabitants deliberately ignoring the conservation measures proposed for the preservation of the visual integrity of the site. It would be desirable if a landscape development expert collaborates with the Commune of Ambohimanga to mitigate this gap.
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. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
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 or fortified royal enclosures (analogous to hillforts in western Europe during the 1st millennium BC). 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.
Ambohimanga itself originated in at least the 15th century and by the 18th century, particularly under Andriantsimitoviaminandriana (1740-45), had developed into a capital with defences and seven gates. Outer defences and seven more gates were added, probably before 1794 when the royal palace was moved to Antananarivo, leaving Ambohimanga as the royal burial place and religious capital. The existing defensive wall was built by Queen Ranavalona I (1828-61), with new gateways to north and south-west (c 1830). The palace Fandriampahalemana and the glass pavilion Tranofitaratra were added in 1871.
In March 1897 the mortal remains of royalty were transferred to Antananarivo by the French colonial authorities in a failed attempt to erase the holiness of the site and the nationalistic legitimacy attached to it. The royal tombs were demolished and military buildings erected in their stead for the garrison on the site. By 1904, all trace of them, in their turn, had been removed. The site continued to be used for religious purposes, particularly as a pilgrimage destination, throughout the 20th century, and remains an active holy place today. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation