Madagascar: A Gemologist’s Journey (Antananarivo)

Antananarivo: Capital City of MadagascarOur journey began May 28th in Antananarivo. Antananarivo, also called Tana, is the capital city of Madagascar and also the largest city in Madagascar with an estimated population of 1.6 million people.

I have to admit, I imagined Tana to be much more metropolitan than it is. The city has very few tall buildings, many buildings are very run down or in disrepair. My driver, Tanjona, said the lack of tall buildings is because the city is built on soft ground, which wouldn’t support the weight of tall buildings. Not sure how accurate that is but it makes sense. In the center of town there are lots of beggars, many young women with babies etc. They seem to flock to white people, whom they consider wealthy.

Antananarivo: The Marketplace in Tana
Amid the hustle and bustle of the busy city is the marketplace. Locals and visitors alike go to the market to buy anything from fresh vegetables, clothes, live chickens and even gems and mineral specimens. Visitors must be especially careful of pick-pockets in the busy marketplace.

I was intrigued by the basket of live chickens I saw for sale. The chickens were just sitting nicely in their place in the basket, barely moving. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the feet of the chickens were tied together, making them immobile.

Antananarivo: Sanitary Conditions
Like other third world countries, the sanitary conditions in Madagascar are a bit shocking by our standards. The streets are littered and the rivers are very dirty. Just outside the marketplace, one boy uses the river as a toilet. I’m told his mother cleaned him off with his shirt, then put the shirt back on him. Further down the river, women wash clothes in the same river. Some locals even drink the river water!

Antananarivo: Queens Palace
Perched on the highest hill overlooking the city is the Queen´s Palace. This is a must-see if you are visiting Antananarivo. Here we learned some history, legends and admired an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city.

The French invaded the capital city in 1895, prompting the Queen’s surrender. Madagascar remained a French colony from 1895 to 1960 when it transitioned to an independent country. Here are some of the buildings at the Queens Palace, including a traditional tomb and beautiful protestant church.

Antananarivo: Dinner Party with Entertainment
We ended our first day in Madagascar with a dinner party of delicious local cuisine and entertainment. Our entertainment was live traditional music, singing and dancing by local Malagasy talents. This was just the first of many similar dinner parties with live entertainment.

In my next post, we head south to Antsirabe, the mineral trading capital of Madagascar.

Author: Michelle M. Rahm is a GIA-trained Graduate Gemologist and is President of Colorado’s Mile High Chapter of the GIA Alumni Association. She has been selling gemstones and jewelry online since 1997. Visit her websites and

About mrahm

Michelle holds a Graduate Gemologist Diploma, Graduate Diamonds Diploma and Graduate Colored Stones Diploma through the Gemological Institute of America's distance education program. Michelle currently serves as President of the Mile High GIA Alumni Association. She also serves on the board of the Rocky Mountain Jeweler's Association and is a member of the American Gem Trade Association.
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