Ambohimanga (‘blue hill’ or ‘beautiful hill’) was the original capital of the Merina royal family. Even after the seat of government was shifted to Antananarivo for political reasons, Ambohimanga remained a sacred site, and was off-limits to foreigners for many years. The entire hill was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001 for being ‘the most significant symbol of the cultural identity of the people of Madagascar’.
The entrance to Ambohimanga village is marked by a large traditional gateway, one of the seven gateways to the eyrie-like hilltop. To one side is a large, flat, round stone. At the first sign of threat to the village, the stone would be rolled by up to 40 slaves, sealing off the gate.