Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa

Photo by Els Slots.

Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa is part of the Tentative list of Madagascar in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa is the first industrial city of Madagascar, built by the Frenchman Jean Laborde in the 19th century. The industrial infrastructure consists of workshops and stone furnaces used for the manufacture of guns and cannons, gunpowder, pottery, paper, furniture, iron, glass, soap and clay pots. The site consists of several stone, brick and wooden buildings as well as the monumental tomb of Jean Laborde.

Map of Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 23-Jun-23 -

Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa  (T) by Els Slots

The old industrial site of Mantasoa covers the remains of a revolutionary development in Madagascar in the 1830s. The first Malagasy Queen, Ranavalona, wanted to become more independent of European powers and especially produce her own modern weaponry. To accomplish this, she enlisted the Frenchman Jean Laborde who had been shipwrecked off Madagascar and had engineering experience. The forced labour of 20,000 Malagasy men was used to develop the site, and later 1,200 men found employment at the factories. The site was only used between 1841 and 1855 until Laborde fell out of grace and went into exile.

Mantasoa lies about 50km from Antananarivo, but it took us 3.5 hours to get there (we went by normal car, in a 4WD it may be half an hour or more faster). The area is much more densely (re)forested than the region around the capital and it has a river – the proximity of wood (pines) and water (swamps were turned into artificial lakes) were what drew Laborde to this place for his industrial site. Mantasoa nowadays is a municipality of about 10,000 inhabitants spread across several villages.

Five locations are distinguished in the Tentative Site description, but they lie close to each other in town and there is more heritage from this period to be found in between. We started at Laborde’s former house, an impressive wooden building modelled after the farms in his home region of Auch. A question by my travel companion for the day, WHS traveller and tree geek Michael Ayers, brought to light that it isn’t the original rosewood version anymore. The estate has a grand entrance with steps, and two phallic symbols guarding the top of the stairs. On both sides of the main house are smaller stone houses for workers. The house now is a museum and we were welcomed by the caretaker who explained its history (in French). The collection is modest, but of note are the scale model of the industrial site as it looked in its heydays and a map of how the products were shipped from Mantasoa to Tana.

The other locations lie more on the outskirts of the village. As I feared we wouldn’t find all of them by ourselves, I had requested meltwaterfalls the night before for a mapping of these locations which we had not been able to do before because of the enigmatic coordinates used. However it turned out there is a true ‘heritage route’ (the Circuit Jean Laborde) signposted around town, with stone markers with a yellow-painted top. Also, every location has an explanatory sign.

Unfortunately, these explanations weren’t too enlightening so the bigger picture of how it all worked at the time eluded me. A local guide had attached himself to us in the meantime, but although he knew his way around, his story was hard to understand. I gathered a bit more afterward from this article and the quotes below were taken from it:

  • The swimming pool of Queen Ranavalona I turned out to be an empty basin made of lime mortar. It was part of her residence here, and the water in the pool was constantly renewed. Apparently, “she liked to observe the workers at work and listen to the noise of factories, water wheels and reamers”.
  • The Carburizing Furnace is a lonely chimney next to the football field.
  • The Blast Furnace is the most impressive of the industrial remains. It was mainly used for the manufacture of cannons and guns. It was inaugurated in 1841.
  • The tomb of Laborde lies on a hilltop and is adorned with yet another phallic symbol. The construction is said to be of ‘Hindu style’, but looked very European to me.

Not included, but part of Mantasoa’s industrial history is the current Lycée Technique where the cannon workshop and the candle, soap and pottery factory were located.

If better interpreted, there can be an interesting nomination here. For now, it is a pleasant day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Antananarivo.

Read more from Els Slots here.

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Full Name
Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa
Structure - Factories and industry
2018 Added to Tentative List

The site has 5 locations

Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa : Maison de l’ingénieur français Jean Laborde (T)
Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa : Tombeau de l’ingénieur français Jean Laborde (T)
Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa : Haut Fourneau (T)
Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa : Four à Cémenter (T)
Ancien site industriel de Mantasoa : Bassin de la Reine RANAVALONA I (1828 – 1861) (T)
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