The Great Zimbabwe, or "stone buildings", is the name given to the twelfth to fifteenth century stone ruins spread out over a 722 hectare(1,784 acre) area within the modern-day country of Zimbabwe, which itself is named after the ruins. It is near the town of Masvingo, which before majority rule was called Fort Victoria. The word "Great" distinguishes the site from the many hundred small ruins, known as Zimbabwes, spread across the Zimbabwe highveld. There are 200 such sites in southern Africa, with monumental, mortarless walls and Great Zimbabwe is the largest.
There are two theories on the origin of the word "Zimbabwe": The first theory holds that the word is derived from Dzimba-dza-mabwe, translated from the Karanga dialect of Shona as "large houses of stone" (dzimba = plural of imba, "house"; mabwe = plural of bwe, "stone"). The Karanga-speaking Shona people are found around Great Zimbabwe in the modern–day province of Masvingo and have been known to have inhabited the region since the building of this ancient city. A second theory is that Zimbabwe is a contracted form of dzimba woye which means "venerated houses" in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, and is usually applied to chiefs' houses or graves.
The largest ancient stone construction south of the Sahara, Great Zimbabwe"
Construction and growth
Construction starting in the 11th century and continuing for over 300 years the ruins at Great Zimbabwe are some of the oldest and largest structures located in Southern Africa, and are the second oldest after nearby Mapungubwe in South Africa. Its most formidable edifice, commonly referred to as the Great Enclosure, has walls as high as 36 feet (11 m) extending approximately 820 feet (250 m), making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. The city and its state, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, flourished from 1200 to 1500 and its growth has been linked to the decline of Mapungubwe from around 1300, due to climatic change or the greater availability of gold in the hinterland of Great Zimbabwe. At its peak, estimates are that Great Zimbabwe had as many as 18,000 inhabitants. The ruins that survive are built entirely of stone. The ruins span 1,800 acres (7 km²) and cover a radius of 100 to 200 miles (160 to 320 km).
Features of the ruins
In 1531, Vicente Pegado, Captain of the Portuguese Garrison of Sofala, described Zimbabwe thus:“Among the gold mines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers there is afortress built of stones of marvelous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them.... This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it in the
fashioning of stone and the absence of mortar, and one of them is a tower more than 12 fathoms [22 m] high. The natives of the country call these edifices Symbaoe, which according to their language signifies court. ”The ruins form three distinct architectural groups. They are known as the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. The Hill Complex is the oldest, and was occupied from the nineth to thirteenth centuries. The Great Enclosure was occupied from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries and the Valley Complex from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Notable features of the Hill Complex include the Eastern Enclosure, in which it is thought the Zimbabwe Birds stood, a high balcony enclosure overlooking thae Eastern Enclosure, and a huge boulder in a shape similar to that of the Zimbabwe Bird. The Great Enclosure is composed of an inner wall, encircling a series of structures and a younger outer wall. The Conical Tower, 18 ft in diameter and 30 ft high, was constructed between the two walls. The Valley Complex is divided into the Upper and Lower Valley Ruins, with different periods of occupation.
The Valley Complex
There are different archaeological interpretations of these groupings. The structuralist interpretation holds that the different complexes had different functions: the Hill Complex as a temple, the Valley complex was for the citizens, and the Great Enclosure was used by the king. Structures that were more elaborate were probably built for the kings. Other researchers suggest that the complexes represent the work of successive kings: each new ruler founded a new residence. The focus of power moved from the Hill Complex in the twelfth century, to the Great Enclosure, the Upper Valley and finally the Lower Valley in the early sixteenth century. Some researchers claim that the ruins may have housed an astronomy observatory, although the significance of the alignments upon which these claims are based is contested.
The most important artifacts recovered from the Monument are the eight Zimbabwe Birds. These were carved from a micaceousschist (soapstone) on the tops of monoliths the height of a person. Slots in a platform in the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex appear designed to hold the monoliths with the Zimbabwe birds, but as they were not found in situ it cannot be determined which monolith and bird were where. Other artifacts include soapstone figurines, pottery, iron gongs, elaborately worked ivory, iron and copper wire, iron hoes, bronze spearheads, copper ingots and crucibles and gold beads, bracelets, pendants and sheaths.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Great Zimbabwe became a center for trading, with artifacts suggesting that the city formed part of a trade network linked to Kilwa and extending as far as China. This international trade, mainly in gold and ivory, was in addition to the local agricultural trade, in which cattle were especially important. The large cattle herd that supplied the city moved seasonally and was managed by the court. Chinese pottery shards, coins from Arabia, glass beads and other non-local items have been excavated at Zimbabwe. Despite these strong international trade links, there is no evidence to suggest exchange of architectural concepts between Great Zimbabwe and centres such as Kilwa.
How to get there
Direct chartered flights to Masvingo en-route to Bulawayo, Chiredzi and Victoria Falls.
Direct services everyday Great Zimbabwe from Harare and Bulawayo.
There are a lot of local public buses available from and to Masvingo. From Masvingo, the area capital; options are limited to car hire and taxi or local bus service to Morgenster Mission, 4 km from Great Zimbabwe. Other alternatives are to take one of the many tours available from Bulawayo, or Harare.
Places to visit
• Lake Mutirikwi (formerly Lake Kyle ), which is the largest inland dam in Zimbabwe
• Kyle Recreational Park (South East of the town) and Mushandike Recreational Park (West of the town)
• Cultural villages around the Great Zimbabwe exhibit exhilarating unadulterated traditional dances and practices of the Karanga people