Great Zimbabwe Unesco World Heritage Site

Great Zimbabwe was a positive surprise

Close to the small city Masvingo in Zimbabwe you find the origin to the name Zimbabwe got in 1980. The name was already used by african nationalists around 1960 as a possible name for the country the day they got their freedom. The name comes from shona language and means ruins. In 1986 this amazing place was proclaimed a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Great Zimbabwe, outside the Hill Complex, Zimbabwe.
Great Zimbabwe, outside the Hill Complex, Zimbabwe.

We spent some time in Zimbabwe in spring 2012 working on a project in the village of Madangombe just some miles south of Great Zimbabwe. One afternoon we decided to visit Great Zimbabwe. I have to admit that I had never heard about the place before and had no expectations. But it turned out to be a great experience. Actually it is some of the most beautiful and impressive ruins I have ever seen. In the same class as Newgrange in Irland that I visited some years ago.

View from the Hill Complex over the Valley and the Great Enclosure
View from the Hill Complex over the Valley and the Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe consists of 3 main areas of ruins in a valley and on the hill overlooking the valley. In the valley it is many remains of settlements in addition to the Great Enclosure. And it is great! Our guide told us that it used to be the queens residence. That is – the first queen – the king had many hundred wives. On the top of the hill with a nice view over the valley is the the Hill Complex. This was the kings palace. And still according to our guide the king sat on the rim of the cliff and called out to all his wives. if he wanted company he called the one he wanted to climb the hill to please him.

Inside the Great Enclosure
Inside the Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe

Climbing the hill up to the fortifications and the ruins of the palace was worth the whole trip. The views are just amazing! From the valley its impossible to see any signs of the fortifications. So after a long climb up narrow paths and through narrow passages its a big surprise when you layer by layer discover The Hill Complex and its many mazes. These fortified walls are build up stone by stone. They are monumental and a big trigger for imagination. Big amphies open up when you turn a corner and some times you will have to climb through narrow passages to get into the next room. Big mountain rabbits lays in the sun on the rocks but bounce away if we come close.

Per and our guides/drivers walking the narrow path up to the Hill Complex
Per and our guides/drivers walking the narrow path up to the Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe served as a capitol for the Kongdom of Zimbabwe back in the contry`s late Stone Age. They started the building in 1100 and continued on to 1400. At its largest the experts estimate that around 18.000 people lived in the area and the kings had their residence on te top of the hill. You can still admire the tall and wide walls. Some was more than 5 meter tall. But then the place was deserted and the walls were slowly teared down and and it all became ruins. The monkeys took over and they are still there down in the valley.

Great Zimbabwe - the Fortress is invisible on the top of the hill
Great Zimbabwe – the Fortress is invisible on the top of the hill, Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe have been controversial. When the country was ruled by white people and had the name of Rhodesia the authorities denied the fact that black africans could be able to build such an impressive architectural monument. The majority of archaeologists think to day that Great Zimbabwe is build by the Gokomere people, the ancestors to the modern Shona people. Great Zimbabwe is the oldest buildings of its kind in Southern Africa. It is found unique objects during the survey of Great Zimbabwe. The most important objects are the eight Zimbabwe Birds, carved in soapstone. The birds was placed on the top of a monolith with the size of a grown man. These birds are now national symbols and part of Zimbabwe`s flag. Most likely they are symbolizing the african fish eagle.

There are speculations about why this place was deserted. Some one believe that famine and lack of water in the area was the reason. Others mean that new trade routes further north moved power and political influence from the area. But even if it is only ruins left, Great Zimbabwe has great symbolic importance for people in Zimbabwe and ought to be a big tourist site. We were almost alone and when we now know what this place really is, we hope more people and tourists will find their way to this hidden masterpiece.

Inside the Hill Complex
Inside the Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe
Sunset at Great Zimbabwe, the Valley Complex
Sunset at Great Zimbabwe, the Valley Complex, Great Zimbabwe
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