Fianarantsoa is a city (commune urbaine) in south central Madagascar.
It is at an average altitude of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), and has a population of 144,225 (2001 census).
Fianarantsoa means "Good education" in Malagasy. It is a cultural and intellectual center for the whole island. It is home to some of the oldest Protestant and Lutheran cathedrals on the island, the oldest theological seminary (also Lutheran), as well as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Fianarantsoa. The city of "good education" also boasts a university named after it and built in 1972. Fianarantsoa is considered to be the capital of wine in Madagascar, because of the presence of many wine industries in the city.
Fianarantsoa has been known for its political activism and was one of the "hot spots" during the political crisis in 2002. Students of the University of Fianarantsoa have a reputation for sympathizing with radical leftist groups. The mayor of Fianarantsoa comes from the MFM political party whose colors are based on the anarcho-syndicalist flag.
The architecture of Madagascar is unique in Africa, bearing strong resemblance to the construction norms and methods of Southern Borneo from which the earliest inhabitants of Madagascar are believed to have emigrated. Throughout Madagascar and the Kalimantan region of Borneo, most traditional houses follow a rectangular rather than round form, and feature a steeply sloped, peaked roof supported by a central pillar. In South Kalimantan, traditional houses are generally raised on piles and feature "house horns" formed by the crossing of roof support beams at each gable end. Traditional Malagasy houses are likewise often built on piles, and the tradition of house horns can be seen in some southeastern communities and in the wooden architectural traditions of the andriana noble classes of the Merina people of the central highlands.
Differences in the predominant traditional construction materials used serve as the basis for much of the diversity in Malagasy architecture. Locally available plant materials were the earliest materials used and remain the most common among traditional communities. In intermediary zones between the central highlands and humid coastal areas, hybrid variations have developed that use cob and sticks. Wood construction, once common across the island, declined as a growing human population destroyed greater swaths of virgin rainforest for slash and burn agriculture and zebu cattle pasture. The Zafimaniry communities of the central highland montane forests are the only Malagasy ethnic group who have preserved the island's original wooden architectural traditions; their craft was added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003. As wood became scarce over time, wooden houses became the privilege of the noble class in certain communities, as exemplified by the homes of the Merina nobility in the 19th century Kingdom of Madagascar. The use of stone as a building material was traditionally limited to the construction of tombs, a significant feature of the cultural landscape in Madagascar due to the prominent position occupied by ancestors in Malagasy cosmology. The island has produced several distinct traditions in tomb architecture: among the Mahafaly of the southwest coast, the top of tombs may be stacked with the skulls of sacrificed zebu and spiked with aloalo, decoratively carved tomb posts, while among the Merina, aristocrats historically constructed a small wooden house on top of the tomb to symbolize their andriana status and provide an earthly space to house their ancestors' spirits.