Monumental stone ruins are rare in southern Africa. Yet in the lower highlands of Zimbabwe stand awe-inspiring African stone-work that feels like something from the Inca of Peru.

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Entrance to the hill-top enclosure. (PHOTO NOTE: The foreground earth was very red, and the sky very blue this afternoon. Great colors. But not the intended subject of the pic. By converting it to B&W the intended feel – highlight – of the man-made rock structure eases nicely within the natural surrounds.)

In fact, when the ruins were “discovered” by whites controlling the country once-known as Rhodesia, racists denied that Africans could ever built such mighty structures.

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Ancient hill-top paths. RIGHT BELOW: tree near throne area of complex

So initially, the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe were attributed to King Solomon or some Greek colonizers myth.

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The Great Enclosure as seen from the hill-top ruins. It is 250 meters in circumference.

Modern research proves conclusively that the builders of the Great Zimbabwe ( means: “stone house”) were the local Shona people of the area.

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Western entrance to the Great Enclosure.

From their capital at the Great Zimbabwe, Shona influence extended into Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, (between the 12-15th centuries AD). 

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Local Shona sculptor at  ruins; there were very few souvenirs stalls here (and visitors across the site). I bought a small carved, necklace piece from him.

Zimbabwe exported gold and ivory to the coast of East Africa (Swahili culture), where items such as cloth, beads, porcelain came into the capital from as far as the Middle East and China.

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Shona woman in tradition headdress at nearby village.

What you see today are the dominant stone ruins of numerous royal enclosures; whilst the populace once lived in simple clay and thatched dwellings. During its height,  Great Zimbabwe’s population fluctuated between 11 – 20,000.

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A young, shaky perspective of the world. Troops of monkeys roamed the park at the edges of the day. I stayed a blissful couple of days in a park hut; if my door was open – monkeys would try and sneak inside.

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From the throne area / meeting place of the enclosure upon the hill – looking down to the largest royal enclosure (below in center).

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Local Shona woman involved in dance troupe. RIGHT: the mysterious, solid “conical tower” within the Great Enclosure. It’s purpose remains unknown.

Travel Advice for the Great Zimbabwe

 

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… on the road with simple tasty stuff from the supermarket

GETTING THERE: You will have to pass-thru (maybe stay the night in nearby city of Masvingo. There are no cheap single rooms these days. I paid $35 with shared bathroom).

However, there’s a fantastic new supermarket in the town center – so stock up on everything. Opposite this supermarket are shared taxi / mini-vans heading out towards the ruins (about 25km away: fare $1-2). You will be dropped off on the road to a very expensive hotel resort.  Walk on up and thru the grounds  and down to the camp site. It’s maybe a 20-30 minute walk. (I hitched with a Zimbabwean couple who had the only vehicle you may see on the road. They also helped me secure a room – when there was none; every room booked-out by a local conference hosted up at the resort. Anyway, it was a nice mellow walk on the return journey out. Then easy hitching to Masvingo).

ACCOMMODATION: Stay at the government camp site. If you don’t have a tent, there are simple but nice double huts (with electricity and shared bathroom @ US15 per person).

TAKE ALL FOOD + WATER: from the decently-priced – South African brand – supermarket in Masvingo. You can score cheese, bread, salami, fruit, alcohol, snacks, etc.  Otherwise site shop has very little beyond soft drinks and crisps. And the resort is expensive  (try the cheapest option: a hamburger @ $10; yet cold beer is cheap).

ENTRANCE FEE: $15 (If you stay at the camp site, this ticket is good for a week).

TIP: Zimbabwe is very quiet on the backpacker circuit. You will have the ruins to yourself (with the occasional local or international tourist). Even if you’re not crazy about ruins, the huts location – looking to the hill-top complex, the rampant monkeys, the nature, nearby villages and total solitude make it worth a mellow couple of days.

great zimbabwe day - MRP ART 2014

great zimbabwe day

Travels in Zimbabwe – 2013

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