Holidays to Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Nestled among the sparsely populated south-eastern hills of Zimbabwe, near the town of Masvingo, is the astonishing ruined medieval city of Great Zimbabwe. Spanning an area of almost eight square kilometres, construction work on the stone buildings here started as long ago as the eleventh century. The so-called Hill Complex that overlooks the site is widely thought to have been a royal palace, built by the ancestors of the Shona people. And it was the Shona word for houses – dzimba – which gave its name both to this remarkable city and to independent Zimbabwe. Which is why it holds a special place in the nation's heart.
The city is believed to have been abandoned around 1450, after which it fell gradually into ruin. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hugely revered location in black African history. In the nineteenth century, visiting Europeans simply refused to believe that monuments of this scale could have been built by the indigenous people. But as you wander around the imposing, intricately crafted walls of this mysterious fortress city, you’ll really sense that – in the words of one art historian – this is an architecture “unparalleled elsewhere in Africa or beyond”.
So, take a tour of this intriguing site, perhaps let a National Parks guide show you where the kings sat and watched over their kingdom, and where they held their colourful religious rituals and ceremonies. There are iconic carvings in the soapstone that once stood in the Hill Complex - and the image of the bird found within is now a proud symbol of Zimbabwe. You’ll also get a chance to visit the Great Enclosure, a vast circular monument of cut granite blocks, whose five-metre thick outer wall extends for 250 metres and is the biggest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa. Its lofty stone tower and elaborate chevron patterns are a striking testimony to impressive levels of engineering skill.
As you take in the awe-inspiring atmosphere at this historic national site, maybe picnicking in the shade or having some traditional maize meal in the restaurant, think back to the 20,000 or so people who lived in this once thriving city a millennium ago. The monuments they left behind them as they abandoned their homes have endured to this day. It’s no wonder that the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are now the second biggest tourist attraction in the country – a unique sight that’s not to be missed.
See the biggest ancient ruins in sub-Saharan Africa
Explore the Hill Complex where ancient kings ruled
Admire the intricate architecture of medieval Africa