The area that is now Antananarivo was originally known as Analamanga (Blue Forest), and is believed to have been populated by the Vazimba, ancestors of today’s Malagasy, about whom little is known. In 1610 a Merina king named Andrianjaka conquered the region, stationed a garrison of 1000 troops to defend his new settlement, and renamed it Antananarivo, ‘Place of 1000 Warriors’.
In the late 18th century Andrianampoinimerina, the unifying king, moved his capital from Ambohimanga to Antananarivo, where it became the most powerful of all the Merina kingdoms. For the next century Antananarivo was the capital of the Merina monarchs and the base from which they carried out their conquest of the rest of Madagascar.
Tana remained the seat of government during the colonial era, and it was the French who gave the city centre its present form, building two great staircases to scale the city’s hills, and draining swamps and paddy fields to create present-day Analakely. In May 1929 the city was the site of the first major demonstration against the colonialists.
Today the greater Antananarivo area is Madagascar’s political and economic centre.