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Great Zimbabwe National Monument

ZimbabweMidlands & MasvingoGreat Zimbabwe


Great Zimbabwe National Monument 

The Great Zimbabwe National Monument is around 30 kilometers from Masvingo and is situated in the lowveld at an elevation of 1100 meters in a sparsely populated Bantu/Shona region. Built between 1100 and 1450 AD, the site spans about 800 acres and is divided into three sections: the Hill Ruins, the Great Enclosure, and the Valley Ruins.

From the 11th to the 15th centuries, the Hill Ruins, which are a massive granite block atop a spur facing north-east/south-west, were continually occupied, and there are several layers of human settlement evidence. Rough granite rubble-stone blocks form discrete enclosures, with pathways that are narrow and partly covered. The west enclosure is assumed to have been the dwelling of succeeding chiefs, while the east enclosure, which contains six steatite upright poles topped with birds, is thought to have served a ritual role.

The Great Enclosure, which is shaped like an ellipse and dates from the 14th century, is located to the south of the hills. It consists of a series of daga-hut living quarters, a community area, and a small tunnel leading to a high conical tower made of cut granite pieces arranged in regular courses. A mixture of granitic sand and clay was used to make the bricks (daga). Within the stone enclosure walls, huts were built; inside each community area, other walls marked off each family's portion, which typically consisted of a kitchen, two living huts, and a court.

The Valley Ruins are a collection of 19th-century living ensembles spread around the valley. Many of the structures in each ensemble are made of brick (huts, inside flooring and benches, holders for receivers, basins, and so on), and each ensemble is insulated by dry stone masonry walls. The construction work was done to a high quality of skill, with a spectacular display of chevron and chequered wall designs, evoking later Stone Age advances.

Scientific evidence shows that Great Zimbabwe was built in the 11th century on a site that had been sparsely populated in the prehistoric period by the Shona, a Bantu group from the Iron Age. It was the capital of a large state that spanned the gold-rich plateaux in the 14th century, with a population of over 10,000 people. Because the hinterland could no longer provide food for the overcrowded metropolis and because of deforestation, the capital was abandoned around 1450. The resulting movement helped Khami, which became the region's most powerful city, but it also showed the region's political influence diminishing. When the Portuguese arrived in Sofala in 1505, the area was split between the competing kingdoms of Torwa and Mwene-Mutapa.

During archeological investigations, glass beads and porcelain from China and Persia, as well as gold and Arab coins from Kilwa, were uncovered, revealing the extent of long-standing trade with the outside world. Other artifacts, including as potsherds and ironware, reveal more about the property's socioeconomic complexity, as well as farming and pastoral activities. A massive stone cross depicts community engagement with missionaries and is positioned at a traditionally treasured and sacred spiritual spot.

The Great Zimbabwe National Monument was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

(Source UNESCO)


  • ZimbabweMidlands & MasvingoGreat Zimbabwe

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