Africa’s best historical sites – Great Zimbabwe

Posted by Michelle Hardie on 24 June 2020

If you are fascinated by enigmas, a visit to Great Zimbabwe ruins will thrill you. The place exudes mystery, as much about the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara is unknown. What is certain, though, is that the site displays ‘architecture that is unparalleled elsewhere in Africa’, according to archaeologist and historian Peter Garlake, whose research proved, once and for all, that the granite dwellings were African and built by ancestors of the Shona people.

The 80-hectare central site comprises the Hill Complex, the Valley Ruins and Great Enclosure. Gallo Images/Getty Images.

The level of skill and ingenuity shown in the mortarless stonework is awe-inspiring, but you’ll have to go there and walk through its narrow passages and enclosures- within-enclosures to truly appreciate the craftsmanship achieved as far back as the 11th century. Some of the walls are six metres thick and 11 metres high, and the place reverberates with the stories of a lost empire; it’s reckoned that up to 20,000 people lived there at one time.

And just as you begin to realise Great Zimbabwe’s importance for Zimbabweans (the eight soapstone birds found in the ruins are a national emblem; one is depicted on the flag), you’ll be scratching your head about its puzzling end: why was a thriving centre of power, a kingdom rich from its trade in gold and ivory with Asia and the Arab world, abandoned four centuries later?

The function of the solid Conical Tower that stands inside the Great Enclosure is not known. Gallo Images/Getty Images.

The theory is that drought and overgrazing in this valley made it uninhabitable, or the city moved to strengthen links with traders. The mystery remains, and you’re bound to have a few theories of your own once you’ve visited this World Heritage Site. Find it 30 kilometres from Masvingo, about four hours’ drive from the capital Harare.

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Stay here

Kyle Recreational Park is about 60km from Great Zimbabwe. It has well-maintained self-catering chalets, some overlooking Lake Mutirikwi. From R693,50* pp sharing.

*Prices subject to change


This post is adapted from an article first published in the April 2019 issue of Getaway magazine.
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All prices correct at publication, but are subject to change at each establishment’s discretion. Please check with them before booking or buying.


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