History of the Vakinankaratra

Antsirabe and the Highlands of Madagascar

Reine Madagascar
Queen Ranavalona II
“The central part of Madagascar experienced its first human settlements around the 10th century, in parallel with the development of the northern and eastern regions. The earliest identified occupation was at the Ambohimanana site in Atsimondrano, dating back to the 10th century. This perched site, surrounded by ditches, presents the typical example of an old habitat characterized by the development of the summit part of a hill in habitable space. Ankadivory, in Avaradrano, saw its first occupation in the Xie-XII century. This site, located on a plot, was surrounded by a single ditch now backfilled. Imported pottery, such as sgraffiato, from the Persian Gulf, Chinese celadon and glass beads were found, which testify to trade relations with the outside world. These contacts seem to have been intense, although we do not yet know the route taken, other fragments of sgraffiato, specific to the XII = XIII° centuries, have also been found in Ambohimanambola, west of Betafo – Antsirabe.”

Ethnologist, Lecturer at the University of Antananarivo
Madagascar Fenêtres vol 3 Ed Cite, Ambatonakanga, Antananarivo


The name «Antsirabe», current chief town of the Vakinankaratra Region, comes from the term «Any-sira-be» which literally translates as «where salt abounds» And later, the term has morphologically become «Antsirabe».

A first explanation is that the origin of the name of the city of Antsirabe comes from the abundance of thermal waters that taste rather salty. This is the opinion most disclosed by the guidance books.

However, a second interpretation is more plausible: the rock salt was exploited in the past in a locality south of the current city of Antsirabe. The growing production of rock salt has given the city its name.

The arrival of the Norwegians

In 1869, Pastor BORGEN was the first foreign resident in the Region. The latter invested in the construction of the bases of the future city. Among the achievements, we can mention the construction of hard houses, the supply of drinking water, the discovery and exploitation of thermal waters, the improvement of the living conditions of the condemned and their progressive emancipation.

The French administration and the colonial period

On 05 July 1903, Antsirabe became Chief Town of Vakinankaratra. This date marked the beginning of the city’s development and equipment works: the baths, the station, the post office, the gardens and all the colonnaded buildings still visible today. Under the governorate of Gallieni from 1896 to 1905, Augagneur from 1905 to 1910, Picquie from 1910 to 1914 and Garbit from 1914 to 1924, the city was the realization of the dream of the French : a center of rest and leisure.

Thermes Antsirabe
L'Hôtel des Thermes
from Antsirabe
During the Second World War, the allies planned to cut the island into two zones, like occupied France. While the northern part would have passed under their control, the southern part with Antsirabe as capital would have remained acquired to the cause of Vichy France.

In 1953, the king of Morocco, deposed by the French, spent a few years in exile in the prestigious Hôtel des Thermes. Finally returning to Morocco in 1955, he obtained independence a few months later. Antsirabe remembers his young son then aged 25 who will be called to rule under the name of Hassan II.

It should be remembered that the queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona III was also exiled to Algiers in 1897.

Note also that the President of the First Republic, Philibert Tsiranana, often came to rest there on weekends ; Former President of Bukina Faso, Thomas Sankara, studied there at the Military Academy of Antsirabe.