The Great Zimbabwe Ruins lie south of the country’s two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo, and forms a rough triangle with them. When European explorers stumbled over the ruins in 1867, they refused to believe the indigenous people were capable of building a tower 22 meters / 72 feet high of uneven stones without mortar. As an alternative they suggested that the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon built them as a country retreat in boulder strewn savannah land backed by bare granite hills. Other writers linked Zimbabwe to Phoenician slave traders.
Exploring the Great Zimbabwe Ruins
In post-colonial times the consensus has been that they are a citadel built by the Shona people as a palace for their king between the 11th and 15th centuries. The soapstone, ivory, gold and silver treasures they left behind were plundered in the centuries that followed. Today, there are three main points of interest namely the Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure, and the Valley Complex.
The Hill Complex
The Acropolis as it is also called may have been the original fortified settlement, but developed into the spiritual heartland of the city. Carbon dating suggests the first stones went down on the steep-sided hill during the 11th Century, and became a sprawling complex 100 meters / 328 feet by 45 meters / 148 feet in an irregular pattern following the contours. When I visited, I experienced a brooding silence as if ancient ears were listening to my conversation with my companion.
The Great Enclosure makes a stronger statement, speaking of the powers of kings long returned to dust. Its centrepiece is the 5,5 meter / 18 foot diameter tower rising 22 meters / 72 feet above the ground. This is girded by two concentric walls with offset entrances. Some historians believe this was the seat of the chieftain and point to the foundations of huts inside. Others believe his cattle sheltered there at night, for to the Shona these were the nation’s wealth.
The Valley Complex
The Valley Complex where 18,000 people may have lived comprises the largest part of the sprawling city covering 722 hectares / 1,780 acres in total. This is a more disorganized pile of crumbling walls and rubble. I sensed a great sadness hovering over it. The Africans believe the spirits of the dead weep constantly when not properly laid to rest. We shall probably never know why the people went away from something over which they lavished so much care.