Great Zimbabwe Hill Top Ruins Panorama

Exploring the Enigma of the Great Zimbabwe

Monumental stone ruins are rare in southern Africa.

Yet in the lower highlands of Zimbabwe are awe-inspiring African stone-work that feels like an Inca site.

Stone Conical Tower Great Zimbabwe Ruins
The mysterious, solid “conical tower” within the Great Enclosure of the Great Zimbabwe ruins. Its purpose remains unknown.

In fact, when the ruins were “discovered” by whites, they denied Africans could ever build such structures.

Ruins Of Great Zimbabwe Moody Panorama
Panorama of the site: Left is the hill-top enclosure while to the right is the Great or Royal enclosure with its huge walls and conical tower.

Origins of the Great Zimbabwe


European scholars in the West thought King Solomon, or ancient Greek colonizers, built the Great Zimbabwe.

WRONG.

Modern research proves that the builders of the Great Zimbabwe were the local Shona people.

Huge Stone Walls Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Western entrance to the Great Enclosure.

The Great Zimbabwe Empire


From the capital of Great Zimbabwe, the Shona influence extended into Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa, (during the 13-16 AD). 

This Zimbabwe empire flourished by exporting gold and ivory to the coast of East Africa (Swahili culture), where cloth, beads, and porcelain came into the city from the Middle East and China.

Narrow Cliff Paths Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Ancient hill-top paths amid ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

What you see today are the stone ruins of royal enclosures; whilst the populace lived in clay and thatched dwellings.

During its height, the Great Zimbabwe’s population fluctuated from 11-20,000 people.

Shona Tribe Great Zimbabwe Ruins
LEFT: Shona woman involved in dance troupe. RIGHT: Sculptor at ruins; there were very few souvenirs stalls here (and visitors across the site) and so I bought a small carved, necklace piece from him. BOTTOM-RIGHT: Shona villages are around the Great Zimbabwe ruins.
Great Zimbabwe Ruins Hill Top Vista
From the throne area / meeting place of the enclosure upon the hill – looking down to the largest royal enclosure (below in center).

Getting to the Great Zimbabwe National Park


GETTING THERE: You’ll have to pass-thru and probably stay a night in Masvingo.

Unfortunately, there are no cheap single rooms (2013).

I paid $35 with a shared bathroom.

However, there’s a fantastic supermarket in the town center – so stock up!

Opposite the supermarket is a mini-bus stop where you’ll get a ride to the ruins (about 25km away). Cost: $2. 

Great Zimbabwe Hill Top Ruins Panorama
Entrance to the hill-top enclosure at the Great Zimbabwe National Park.

The bus will drop you at the entrance that leads to an expensive resort; walk thru the grounds and down towards the campsite.

It’s about a 20-minute walk.

But I hitchhiked with a young Zimbabwean couple.

They also helped with a room. (Apparently, attendees of a conference at the resort had booked it solid, but left this morning. Yet, the staff hadn’t cleaned any rooms (and weren’t bothering to, until the couple persuaded them to ready one for me.)

My return from the Great Zimbabwe was a peasant walk and then an easy hitchhike back to Masvingo.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins Trip
LEFT: 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. But if my door was open, monkeys would try to sneak inside.

BOTTOM-LEFT: View of Great Enclosure for hill-top ruins. BOTTOM-RIGHT: my food supplies for the 2 days at the site.

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

TAKE ALL FOOD + WATER from the decently priced supermarket in Masvingo.

You can score cheese, bread, salami, fruit, alcohol, snacks, etc.  

Otherwise the National Park shop has little beyond soft drinks and crisps. And the resort is expensive (I tried the cheapest option: a hamburger @ $10. Yet, the cold beer is cheap).

ACCOMMODATION: Stay at the government camp site, if you don’t have a tent. Simple double huts with electricity and shared bathroom @ US15 per person.


Tranquility in the presence of the Great Zimbabwe


This region of Zimbabwe is silent on the backpacker circuit.

You’ll have the ruins to yourself, mostly.

AND, even if you’re not crazy about ruins, the location – looking to humped-rocks, watching playful monkeys or wandering amid nature, offers bliss amid an ancient and sacred space.

Travels in Zimbabwe – 2013

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