We woke at daybreak. The morning was misty and rain threatened. However, our spirits could not be dampened, we were at Great Zimbabwe!
This was an exciting moment of the trip for me, we were visiting the most famous city ever built by the Bantu culture in southern Africa. The site is a testament to the development of stratified, centralized societies in southern Africa and their great wealth acquired through international trade. It has also been at the centre of much political and social debate in Zimbabwe during colonial times. The government were pushing for any archaeologist that would disenfranchise the original creators of Great Zimbabwe, pushing for any information to suggest Great Zimbabwe to be Persian, Arabic or something else in origin. This was disproved by a female archaeologist named Gertrude Caton Thompson where she gave evidence that Great Zimbabwe was in-fact created by a “native civilization”.
Great Zimbabwe was founded by Shona speaking people, it existed and flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries, having risen from the decline of the Mapungubwe civilization in northern South Africa around 1300 AD. Great Zimbabwe covers an area of 800 ha and consists of three separate areas: Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins. It was the Hill complex we made our way to first, it consists of an ancient pathway to the top of the hill lined with impressive and immaculate stonewalling.
Once you ascend this eerie passage to the acropolis on top you get an impression of how impressive this site would have been in its prime. From the photo above you can see the imposing stonewalling built upon the granite cliff. As you walk around you see the vast scale of the stone-walled architecture which dwarfs you as you pass through these walls weighing hundreds of tons.
The Hill Complex consists of many small courtyards and half hidden pathways flowing with and using the natural features of the granite hill. The Hill Complex is the oldest portion of Great Zimbabwe starting in the 11th century and was the residence of the successive chiefs until the 15th century.
From the top, you can look down on the remainder of the colossal site and landscape that once housed an estimated 10 000 people. The below photo shows this view of the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins where these people would have stayed.
Thus we made our way down into the valley toward the Great enclosure through the aloes and the Valley Ruins.
Once you reach the Great Enclosure there is a narrow passageway leading off to the right. This passageway would have been the way guests entered when they were visiting the Great Enclosure putting them up close with the magnitude and power of the chief and civilization they were visiting.
This passageway leads to the famous 9-meter tall conical tower. This tower was thought to be a treasure vault and has been partially deconstructed and subsequently reconstructed. Unfortunately, the centre contained more granite bricks.
The wall behind the tower is 10 meters high and up to four meters thick, it is so wide at the top of the wall that a car could ride upon it. It is estimated that there are over a million granite bricks that have been individually worked that were used in the construction of the Great Enclosure.
Around 1450 AD the capital of Great Zimbabwe was abandoned due to the increasing pressure the inhabitants were placing on the environment, the soil that grew crops were exhausted and deforestation also played a role. With the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe power shifted to the lesser known Khami empire. We will be visiting Khami soon and see the part they played in history and the architectural marvels they created.
Trent Seiler &
The Nitty Gritty Nomads