Z is for Zimbabwe Ruins

This entry is part 28 of the series Out of Africa


The name, Zimbabwe, means “Stone Houses”, and the country originally known as Rhodesia has taken over this name.  However, for many of us who spent our childhood years in this country, the Zimbabwe Ruins, now often known as Great Zimbabwe, was a place of great majesty and mystery. Once upon a time, it was the residence of the Zimbabwean monarch and his people in ancient days.
The Zimbabwe Ruins are the remains of the capital city of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, an ancient kingdom in the interior of Southern Africa, inhabited during the country’s late Iron Age. It was constructed between the 11th and 15th centuries by ancestors of the Shona People, and at one time would have housed up to 18,000 people. This ancient city extends over about 800 hectare (8 square kms or 1,800 acres). The ruins have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, and divides into three main architectural zones.

Zimbabwe Ruins AcropolisThere is the Hill Complex, also known as the Acropolis. This was where the monarch lived, and it is over 1,000 years old. Our children loved to stand in a half open cave at the top of the Acropolis and give loud yells or piercing whistles. After quite a few seconds, their sounds would echo back clearly across the valley. If there were people in the valley below, they could reply back. This was how the chief used to communicate with his people.

The view from the Acropolis looking across the valley to the Great Enclosure, is truly breathtaking, and makes the steep climb worthwhile.

The Valley Ruins include a series of living spaces and animal enclosures.  Many of the constructions here resemble later developments of the Stone Age. Zimbabwe Ruins from AcropolisThe buildings incorporate an amazing display of chevron and chequered wall decorations.

Archaeological finds include indoor flooring, benches, basins, etc as well as drystone masonry to provide insulation.

Zimbabwe great_enclosure


The Great Enclosure is thought to be where the first wife of the king’s 200 wives lived. It comprises an inner wall which encircles a series of structures, and an outer wall with a height of 11 metres (36 feet).

The granite rocks used for these buildings were gathered from the surrounding hills. This rock naturally splits into slabs which the builders laid one upon the other, each layer slightly more recessed than the previous one.  It is the largest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa.

The walls are a feat of engineering. They were constructed without mortar with a stunning chevron pattern along the top.ZImbabwe Ruins Chevron grey

Between the two walls stands The Conical Tower which stands over 9 m (30 ft) high and is 5.5 m (18 ft) in diameter.Zimbabwe Ruins Tower with person

Eight magnificent statues, known as The Zimbabwe Birds, about 40 cms (16 inches) tall and carved of soapstone, were discovered in the ruins, six of them in the Hill Complex.

Each sat on top of a column about a meter (1 yard) tall.

Although their exact significance is still unknown, these remain powerful symbols of rule even today, and one adorns the flag of Zimbabwe. The photo on this page is of a small replica that we bought years ago at the ruins, and it sits in pride of place on my study windowsill.Zimbabwe bird

For many years so-called educated men believed it was impossible for the African people of that era to have built in such a sophisticated manner, and they gave credit to other “more advanced” peoples. However, once archaeologists were able to examine the buildings and the artifacts, it was indisputably established that Great Zimbabwe had been built solely by the African tribes who inhabited the area.

If you ever come to Africa, try to put the Zimbabwe Ruins on your travel agenda. It will give you a mind-expanding look into long-ago history.

This post brings to an end the series of blogs posted for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My theme has been Out of Africa, and it is my hope that through these glimpses at random locations, people, flora and fauna found in the continent of Africa, you will have gained some insight into this massive continent, its people and its many cultures. Maybe, as a result of reading these posts, you will one day visit the land for yourself, and marvel at the richness and wonder of this incredible part of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

All photographs either own, public domain, or categorised as available for free web use.
Conical tower By Marius Loots (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0
Acropolis: Macvivo at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons
Chevron Pattern: Dave Cross Flickr
Conical Tower: Lars Lundqvist Flickr