Designated a World Heritage Site in 1986, this once great city has crumbled into disrepair. From the 11th Century to the 15th, this was a major trading centre for cattle, gold and ivory and in its prime, the 13th and 14th Centuries, was the largest settlement in southern Africa. It was built by the ancestors of the Shona, one of Zimbabwe’s Bantu- speaking groups who constitute a majority of the population today. The word ‘Zimbabwe’ is a Shona, traditionally ‘Dzimbahwe’, and can be divided into two key words, ‘mba’ meaning ‘house’ and ‘bwe’ meaning ‘stone’, resulting in something like ‘The House of Stone’.
The settlement can be divided into three distinct regions; the Hill Complex, Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. The Hill Complex forms a huge granite mass, an acropolis, the west of which was thought to have been the residence and the east contains six steatite posts, considered to be used in rituals. The Valley Ruins are a series of constructions scattered in the valley, each with similar characteristics, built from brick and dry-stone. These are thought to be the areas inhabited by the citizens and show evidence of farming and pastoral activities. Lastly there is the Great Enclosure which dates from the 14th Century. This is the most impressive with a diameter of about 89 metres; the enclosure wall is a maximum of 5 metres thick and 10 metres high. The wall itself is 244 metres long, featuring monoliths and turrets, encompassing a mysterious tower.
Portuguese traders encountered the vast stone ruins in the 16th Century, after hearing tales of cities built from gold – but it was already in ruins before they arrived. Its demise is thought to have been due to overpopulation of around 20,000 residents, which led to the spreading of disease and political discard. The nearby museum features artefacts and tools used during the construction, great for gaining a little more insight.
We recommend visiting the ruins on a tour so you can really grasp and understand the historical significance and huge importance of the area.