A town located in the heart of the Highlands of Madagascar about 300 km south of Antananarivo, Ambositra is known for being the cradle of wood craftsmanship. A traditional craft now listed as a Unesco world cultural heritage.
Ambositra owes its name (“where there are many castrated zebu”) to the importance of its herds of cattle in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The region enjoys various resources. In addition to livestock and agriculture (rice, corn, cassava, sugar cane), there are significant mineral resources: copper, gold, iron, lead, nickel, asbestos and limestone. Ambositra is also Madagascar’s main center for the production of Toaka Gasy (contraband alcohol), a sugar cane-based rum that makes many of the inhabitants of Ambositra among the richest in Madagascar, outside the capital.
History of Ambositra
Ambositra is the land of the Betsileo (“Many invincibles”) which included the Vazimba people before forming four kingdoms: Arindrano to the south; in the center Lalangina; Isandra to the west and Manandriana to the north. Around 1750, under the reign of Andriamanalina I, Isandra affirmed her economic superiority over the other three kingdoms, but without achieving lasting political unity in Betsileo. Weakened by its internal divisions, the region came under the control of the Merina at the end of the 19th century. Ambositra fiercely resisted the army of Prince Rakoto, the future Radama II. After an assault that claimed the life of King Betsileo Mpanalina (the umtimo King of the Betsileo), Merina’s troops reduced the houses to ashes and their residents into slavery. From this first village, Ambositra-Taloha, 3 km southwest of the present city, remain the protective moats, the narrow natural gate formed by large rocks, the main square and the tomb of the ancient kings.
What to see in Ambositra and nearby
In addition to the boutiques with its artisans at work, Ambositra offers several circuits for trekking lovers. From Ambostra, 45 km to the south, we can visit the Zafimaniry villages, historically the true wood carvers. The treks therefore start from Antoetra, the capital of Zafimaniry and you can organize treks for all tastes; from the 4 hour one to visit Ifasina (which we do not recommend and we do not propose due to lack of authenticity) to the 6 hour one to visit Sakaivo in a day, the most beautiful Zafimaniry village. It is recommended to spend the night in Sakaivo to do the loop circuit. Other treks include more remote and authentic areas such as Faliarivo, Kidodo and Sahanato which however require much more organization and at least 2 nights.
Closer to Ambositra, the orange grove circuit starts from the village of Maharivo, 1 km south of Ambositra. 150 families of artisans live off wood carving in Maharivo. Due to a lack of resources, these families still use traditional means to cut and shape the wood. As for the women, they are responsible for finishing and selling the handicrafts to tourists who come to the place and to the artisan shops in the city center.
The next village to visit is Ivony, 9 km from Ambositra. Ivony is also renowned for its sacred mountain and for local farmers who are masters for irrigation on the rice terraces. A know-how that shapes the typically Betsileo landscape. Hence the surprising name of Ivory Amphitheater which is an original and unique landscape in the world with its 170-level rice fields called “KIPAY”. To give you an idea, in the world to see a similar show you have to go to Indonesia to see a natural amphitheater of only 126 levels.
Also worth visiting is the village of Andina, 8 km from Ivony. At the time of King Radama II, the local group leaders in these parts decided to negotiate a non-aggression pact knowing that the Merina army was far superior. The people of Andina are fervent in agriculture and open to any introduction of new crops, such as citrus or orange, coffee cultivation and the introduction of various species of medicinal plants. An essential oil extraction unit exists in Andina. There is also a natural pool and its cave where you could swim. During the orange season, from May, you have the opportunity to taste different varieties under the shade of these trees.