Do you know Mantasoa : The Legacy of Jean Laborde

Mantasoa, located about sixty kilometers from Antananarivo, is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway. It is a true haven of peace, where tranquility and serenity reign, inviting rest and relaxation. This charming locality bears the traces of Madagascar’s first industrial revolution. Today, it is transforming into an open-air museum, preserving the legacy of Jean Laborde, its creator. The artificial lake, the wooden house, the tomb, and the old buildings and furnaces constitute the elements of this historical setting, plunging us into the glorious past of this region.

The first industrial city of the Malagasy Highlands

The construction of the Mantasoa lake embodies the beginning of everything. It is where the idea of an industrial city sprouted, where various products were manufactured: firearms, cannons, bullets, as well as diverse items such as lightning rods, bricks, pottery, glass, porcelain, soap, candles, jewelry, sealing wax, paper, fabrics, leather, artificial flowers, musical instruments, and liqueurs. Under the reign of Queen Ranavalona I, the desire for industrialization asserted itself, without depending on any European aid. Thus, Jean Laborde was entrusted with this mission. In 1837, he envisioned a city that he drew himself, on marshy terrain surrounded by partially wooded hills and scattered with gneiss. The site was cleared, canals were dug, dikes were erected, stone buildings were constructed, as well as several furnaces for various uses: cementation, pottery, lime, and ironwork. In 1841, the blast furnace, named « afo mahery, » was completed, thus realizing this ambitious project.

Construction of an Industrial Oasis: Mantasoa under the Reign of Queen Ranavalona I

The transformation of marshes into artificial lakes gave birth to an innovative and multifunctional city, meeting the varied needs of the region. Under the visionary eye of Jean Laborde, this industrial oasis, named « Soatsimanampiovana » the immutable beauty not only regulated the course of the Ikopa River and protected the surrounding rice fields from floods but also served as a nerve center for a range of economic activities. Canals irrigated machines and furnaces, efficiently harnessing hydraulic energy. Within this city, silkworm breeding flourished alongside powder magazines and warehouses. A zoo, housing African antelopes, was arranged for the entertainment of the queen and her subjects. Houses with red roofs housed workers and supervisors, while pleasure houses welcomed officers and the Prime Minister during their regular visits. Of course, the queen enjoyed her own residence, equipped with a pool constantly replenished with fresh water. From her throne, she watched with satisfaction the frenetic activity of the workers and listened to the hum of factories, water wheels, and reamers. In accordance with Malagasy traditions, Jean Laborde also erected his own residence and tomb in the heart of this flourishing community.

Historical revitalization and aquatic leisure in Mantasoa

After Jean Laborde’s departure in 1855, the Mantasoa industrial complex fell into oblivion until the colonial era, when it found new life. Machines restarted, abandoned buildings were renovated to house a military post and a regional school. Today, the site bears witness to the past glory of this industry, with Jean Laborde’s wooden house and tomb, recalling his legacy. The lake, once a source of energy for industry, is now the center of a myriad of water activities.

Nowadays, Mantasoa offers a variety of activities for visitors. You can enjoy boat rides, water skiing, pedal boating, and fishing on its waters. A recently established sturgeon farm adds an exotic touch to the experience. Along the lake shores, you’ll find charming hotels that provide tranquil accommodations away from the city’s hustle and bustle. These establishments also offer hiking, biking, quad biking, and horseback riding in the surrounding areas. At an altitude of 1,500 meters, an enchanting eucalyptus forest awaits, while encounters with crocodiles, turtles, snakes, chameleons, sifakas (lemurs), and butterflies add a touch of magic to your getaway.

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