Great Zimbabwe is the name given to hundreds of great stone ruins spread out over a 320 square kilometres area within Zimbabwe, which itself is named after the ruins. Its massive curving walls, constructed from millions of granite blocks fitted together without mortar, remain the largest ancient stone structure in sub Saharan Africa.
The structures built by indigenous African people between AD 1250 and AD 1450 believed to be the ancestors of modern Zimbabweans are located about 30 kilometres beyond the south-eastern town of Masvingo.
Formed of regular, rectangular granite stones, carefully placed one upon the other, they are the ruins of an amazing complex, the ruins at Great Zimbabwe are remarkable; lofty, majestic, awe-inspiring, timeless.
The quality of the building in places is outstanding. It was built by craftsmen who took a pride in their work. There is nothing to compare with it in southern Africa.
The two main areas of stone wall enclosures are the Hill Complex, on the long, steep-sided granite hill and the land below this hill where the Valley Enclosures and the Great Enclosure are situated.
The stone walls, up to 6meter thick and 12 meter high, are built of granite blocks without the use of mortar. Two high walls form the narrow parallel passage, 60 meter long, which allows direct access to the Conical Tower. The Great Enclosure is the largest single ancient structure south of the Sahara.
The name “Zimbabwe” was most likely derived from the Shona language; dzimba dza mabwe means “house of stone” or a Shona word possibly derived from dzimba woye, literally ‘venerated houses.’
The Great Zimbabwe society is believed to have become increasingly influential during the 11th Century. The Swahili, the Portuguese and Arabs who were sailing down the Mozambique coast began trading porcelain, cloth and glass with the Great Zimbabwe people in return for gold and ivory. As the Great Zimbabwe people flourished, they built an empire whose huge stone buildings which would eventually spread over 200 square miles (500 km2). It is thought that as many as 18,000 people lived here during its heyday.
By the 15th Century, Great Zimbabwe was in decline due to over population, disease and political discord. By the time the Portuguese arrived in search of rumoured cities built of gold, Great Zimbabwe had already fallen into ruin. During colonial times when white supremacy was in vogue, many believed that Great Zimbabwe couldn’t possibly have been built by black Africans.
This is why Great Zimbabwe became an important symbol, especially to those fighting the colonial regime during the 1960’s through to independence in 1980. Great Zimbabwe symbolized what black Africans were capable of despite denials by white men in power at the time. Once power was rightfully transferred to the majority, Rhodesia was named Zimbabwe.
The famous ruins are the country’s premier national monument. Judging by the ancient iron tools, ceramics, pottery, gold and carvings discovered in the ruins, it covers about 720 hectares with its huge granite walls, conical towers and fortresses. In a nearby museum archaeological artefacts that have been recovered from the ruins can be viewed.