Great Zimbabwe Ruins Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

The Great Zimbabwe Ruins, also known as The Great Zimbabwe are a veritable sea of fascinating rock formations; this complex set of ruins is the largest of the 150 stone settlements in Zimbabwe and the most significant in sub-Saharan Africa, giving testimony to the lost civilisation of the Shona. Zimbabwe is a word derived from dzimbahwe, a Shona word that means great stone building. Great Zimbabwe gave modern Zimbabwe its name as well as its national emblem – an eagle carved stylishly out of soapstone which was found at the ruins.Due to its deep historical meaning and resistance through time – the large towers and structures were built out of millions of stones balanced perfectly on top of one another without the aid of mortar – the Great Zimbabwe Ruins became a National Monument, earning world-wide recognition. In 1986 it was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The Great Ruins of Zimbabwe are located in the southern tip of the African continent, more precisely in the rugged south-eastern hills of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe and about 30 km from the city of Masvingo, close to the Chimanimani Mountains and the Chimanimani District. Archaeologists say that this valley and the hill that dominates it where most of the ruins are located were inhabited by various tribes from an early period.

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Great Zimbabwe was a town of imposing stone constructions, built and occupied between the 11th and 15th centuries. In the 13th and 14th centuries,  the town reached its greatest power and prosperity; it was the largest settlement in southern Africa. Approximately 20,000 people lived here during its heyday.The builders of Great Zimbabwe were the Karanga, from which descend the Shona, who constitute a majority of the population of Zimbabwe today. The town’s landscape was dominated by imposing dry stonewalls forming enclosures and in certain areas terraces and platforms. The settlement complex covered at least 720 hectares. Due to over population, disease and political discord, Great Zimbabwe began to decline. This happened in the 15th Century. Great Zimbabwe had already fallen into ruin when Portuguese arrived here in search of gold. From the 17th century the Nemamwa dynasty occupied the area around Great Zimbabwe and they became the traditional custodians of the site until the late 1820's when they were ousted by the Duma. To this day both groups are regarded as the traditional custodians of Great Zimbabwe.
The  Ruins
The stonewalled area of the Ancient Zimbabwe ruins can be divided into three major sectors:
  • Hill Complex was the main spiritual and religious centre of Great Zimbabwe; it is a roughly oval area, about 328 by 148 feet which includes rocky outcrops and large granite boulders. There is a series of enclosures connected by narrow stone-built passages. The largest hill enclosure is the Western Enclosure, with a main perimeter wall 26 feet high and 16.4 feet thick.
  • Great Enclosure is the largest single ancient structure south of the Sahara. The perimeter wall is 820 feet in circumference and 36 feet high, and it is estimated that nearly a million granite blocks were used in its construction. The roughly oval-shaped structure encloses an area 262 feet by 180 feet and contains a number of stone features, including the Conical Tower.
  • Valley Enclosure is the place were the homes of the more important people, while most of the population lived in huts set close together on the periphery of the enclosures. It has been estimated that there were about 50 households within these stone wall enclosures. The seventh Zimbabwe Bird, now used as the National Emblem, was found in one of these Enclosures.The closest town to the Ruins is Masvingo located about 30 km away.
There are several lodges and a hostel in Masvingo. Also a hotel and a campsite can be found at the Ruins themselves.
To get to Masvingo, either hire a car or catch a long-distance bus. It takes 5 hours from Harare and 3 hours from Bulawayo. Long distance buses between Harare and Johannesburg stop nearby the ruins as well. There is a train station in Masvingo, but trains in Zimbabwe run infrequently and very slowly.
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