The Great Zimbabwe ruins are the largest collection of ruins in Africa towards the south of the Sahara. Situated in the heart of southern Africa between Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers these amazing ruinsare testament to a culture of excellent wealth and great architectural skill. During the country’s late Iron Age, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe.
The construction on the monument began during the 11th century by ancestors of the Shona people which continued till the 15th century covering an area of 722 hectares which could have housed around 18,000 people. It is now recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. As per UNESCO, the method of construction used in Great Zimbabwe was unique in the continent’s architecture and though there are cases of identical work elsewhere, none seem to be exceptions and imposing as these ruins.
Attention is drawn at first sight at the high level of craftsmanship which was used in the construction of the site where skilful stonemasons had built massive dry stone wall and incorporated large natural boulders in some of the structures. Walls were extended between the rocky outcrops as well as massive rocks formed a maze of narrow passageways and enclosures.
Three Architectural Zones – Hill Complex/Valley Ruins/Great Enclosure
The site is divided into three main architectural zones and the Hill Complex is considered as a royal site while the Valley Ruins are series of living space. The Great Enclosure is the most impressive and a spectacular circular monument which has been made of cut granite blocks that was built entirely in curves.
The outer wall extends to some 250 meters having a maximum height of 11 meters making it the largest single pre-colonial structure in Africa, south of Sahara. Great Zimbabwe served as a royal palace and would have been considered as the seat of political power for the Zimbabwe monarch. Its most appealing features were the walls, some of which were over five metres high and were constructed without the use of mortar. The city was eventually abandoned and fell into ruins.
Important Artefacts Recovered
Great Zimbabwe was home to cattle herding locals who were also well skilled in metal work. The ruins are the largest of its kind on Zimbabwe Plateau.Other miniature site had been ruined by European treasure hunters during the 19th century and these smaller ruins are known as zimbabwes which are found as far as Mozambique while the largest of them all are the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. Religious life was rich in Great Zimbabwe and trade kept the community prosperous.
Important artifacts recovered from the monument are 8 Zimbabwe birds which have been carved from a micaceous schist or soapstone on the tops of monoliths, the height of a person. In the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex are slots in a platform which appear to be designed to hold the monoliths with the Zimbabwe birds and though they were not traced, it is not clear about the monolith and birds. Besides these, other artifacts include soapstone figurine, pottery, iron gongs, elaborately worked ivory, iron and copper wire, iron hoes, copper ingots and crucibles, bronze spearheads, gold beads, bracelets, pendants and sheaths.