First occupied in the fifteenth century, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga has long been one of the most important spiritual and historic sites for the Malagasy people. Perched high atop one of the twelve sacred hills of Imerina, it emerged as a fortified political capital and royal palace during the reign of Andriantsimitoviaminandriana (r. 1740–1745). Defensive walls with seven gates were constructed, and the primary gate was closed by rolling a 12-ton stone disk to seal the opening and protect the Malagasy royalty in times of danger. The site includes a complex of royal buildings and places of ritual, a royal burial ground, fortification systems, a sacred forest with many endemic species, and the former seat of justice, which is located on an enormous granite rock and shaded by a royal fig tree. In the nineteenth century, the French colonial authorities made several attempts to undermine the significance and national symbolism of Ambohimanga, all of which proved unsuccessful.
2012 World Monuments Watch
Although Ambohimanga is protected under Madagascar’s heritage laws and is listed as a World Heritage site, its inclusion on the 2012 World Monuments Watch called attention to the pressing needs for continued vigilance in monitoring and maintaining these historic structures. The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga faced many challenges, including securing sufficient financial resources for maintenance, the threat of unregulated development around the site’s periphery, and political changes that could impact local heritage laws. In February 2012, Hurricane Giovanna swept through the region damaging the historic site. WMF, with additional support from the Prince Claus Fund, worked with CRAterre-ENSAG and local agencies to conduct preliminary site assessments and develop a conservation strategy. Restoration work began in the summer of 2012 and was completed by the end of 2013. Work consisted of repairing the surrounding timber palisade and walls to strengthen the royal enclosure, installing waterproofing and drainage, conserving stonework, and restoring the damaged roofs of two palaces.
The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is considered the embodiment of Malagasy cultural identity. It has immense historical, cultural, and spiritual significance. As the home and cemetery of former sovereigns, the site was the religious capital of nineteenth-century Madagascar. Ancestor worship is an important aspect of Malagasy culture, and the site remains a place of worship and pilgrimage drawing visitors from Madagascar and beyond. The site is a pre-eminent example of Malagasy Rova, or palace architecture, situated within a cultural landscape that reflects centuries of Malagasy history. Part of the site is covered with a sacred forest that contains many rare endemic species. Combining indigenous and European architectural styles, and perched at a high enough elevation to become a strategically defensive context for royal residences, Ambohimanga has endured as a symbol of its diverse political past.