If you have ever been to any city in Madagascar you will have noticed the huge, disproportionally wide, seemingly random Avenue de l’indépendance. Cities like the capital Antananarivo, the port city Toamasina, in Fenoarivo and the Grande Avenue in Antsirabe. All these cities have wide avenues in the city centre. In Antananarivo, Toamasina and many other cities, these wide avenues run perpendicular from the station’s building. Most of these avenues are around 35 meters wide, the Champs-Élysées in Paris is 70 meters wide for reference. These avenues are exceptionally large for the sometimes tiny cities in which they are placed. They are one of the most direct urban reminders of Madagascar’s colonial past.
The longest of these avenues is the Avenue de L’indépendance in Antananarivo. The 550 meters long 75 meter wide avenue is the widest road in Antananarivo. It leads from the central station towards the Avenue du 26 Juin 1960.
The avenue has large sidewalks with parking places, trees lining it and a 2 lane road in each direction. The median is around 20 meters wide and has vibrant green grass in the centre. The sidewalks are covered in a maroon, red coloured asphalt.
The Avenue de L’indépendance was designed by the colonial government to go from the newly built station Soarano Station, finished in 1910, to the market of Zoma. It was designed in 1912 but was rebuilt in 1935 in its current form. Along the avenue, there are shops, hotels and office buildings. It was meant to be a central line in the city, that could be extended as the city grew and create one large artery through the city ending at the main artery of the country, the railway.
These avenues were built, taking the example of the large boulevards that were built in Paris at the end of the 17th century. These boulevards were built in Paris to clean up the city, beautify it and help the government to keep control over the city.
These large boulevards are essentially built up of 3 parts. In the centre a large road, next to that there is a row of trees and besides that the walkway with shops and houses. The Champs Élysées has a few extra parts, it has an extra row of trees and an extra walkway to give it it’s exceptional width. The Avenue de L’indépendance in Antananarivo has some extra features. For example, it’s wide median, but the idea remains the same. A grand entrance through the whole city. There’s only one problem. None of these grand avenues were never extended, they have been left at the exact same length as when they were laid more than 100 years ago. The city has not been so kind. It has grown exponentially and is likely to continue to expand.
These avenues like many things in Africa are a left over of European imperialism that has little connection with Africa. I do however believe that these Avenues can be used to good effect in the new African cities but for this to happen they must be used, structurally to improve the city, both as large infrastructure projects, but also objects of beauty. These should be used to create spaces where Malagasy can enjoy the African sun.
Avenue de L’indépendance in other Malagasy cities:
Wikipedia (Champs Elysees), Madagascarica, Madagascar Island, Hey Brian, Archnet, Wikipedia (Boulevards of Paris), Black Past, Gallica, Villatana, Apprivoiser Madagascar Reunion, Wikipedia (Fenoarivo Atsinanana), Madacamp