Website Category: Ancient sub-Saharan Civilisations
Area: 7.2 km2
Criteria: (i) a creative masterpiece (iii) cultural tradition (vi) association with belief system
Location and Values: Great Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most impressive monuments. In its hey-day, from about 1300 to 1450, it was the capital of a major trading empire, with a population of about 10,000, centred on the gold-rich plateau of central southern Africa. Trade was closely associated with the Swahili-Arab port of Kilwa on the Tanzanian coast, and a 14th century coin from there has been found.
Located near the modern town of Masvingo in south-central Zimbabwe, the ruins of this great city state are in a remarkably good state of preservation. There are huge granite dry-stone walls, built with immense skill, linking massive granite boulders that are integrated into some of the structures. The whole site extends over an area of about 80 hectares and includes three main ruins: a hill-top acropolis regarded as a ‘royal city’ where six steatite ‘totem’ birds were found (the bird has been adopted as a national emblem by the modern Zimbabwe state); a Great Enclosure built of cut granite blocks, which served as a kind of fortified town protecting the homesteads within; and a series of living ensembles in the valley outside the main enclosure.
Slideshow of the Great Zimbabwe National Monument: This short slideshow features some rather old photos of the site, taken in 1982. They show the immense granite walls of the Great Enclosure, the quality of the work that went into the dry-stone construction, and features of the royal city, including a photo of one of the steatite Zimbabwe totem birds. Finally, there are a couple of distant photos of the entire valley ruins, with the Great Enclosure, as viewed from the royal city.
Slideshow of the Great Zimbabwe National Monument:
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Great Zimbabwe National Monument on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. You can learn an enormous amount from this kind of ‘bird’s eye view’, so take a few minutes to explore different parts of the ruins by panning around.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details