Zimbabwe’s ancient ruins


(Posted 10th July 2016)

(All pictures courtesy of Mr. David Bowden, Kuala Lumpur / Malaysia)

Travel has many upsides, one of them, for me at least, to meet fellow travel writers, or writing travelers, equally keen to explore a destination and often seeing the same things with different eyes, from different perspectives.
A recent journey across Zimbabwe, as part of attending the Sanganai 2016 World Travel Expo in Bulawayo, provided such an opportunity. David Bowden, bases in Kuala Lumpur / Malaysia, an accomplished and recognized travel writer, was on the same itinerary as yours truly and while I have written several pieces about the Eastern Highlands and the ancient ruins of Great Zimbabwe, so has he.
He gave permission to reproduce his article and pictures, first published by the New Sabah Times a few days ago, and I hope his impressions, like mine, raise interest levels in travel to Zimbabwe, not just the famous Victoria Falls but across the country, which has so much to offer and whose people are as warm and friendly as can be hoped for.

Zimbabwe’s Ancient City of Stone

By David Bowden

Zimbabwe is a truly remarkable country in many ways and one that offers seasoned travellers a blend of culture, adventure, wildlife and h i s t o r y.

This landlocked African nation is best known for its wildlife safaris and the spectacular sight of the cascading waters of the Zambezi River as they crash over the Victoria Falls.

The Great Zimbabwe historical site in southern Zimbabwe is Africa’s largest Sub-Saharan archaeological site and recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

African Trading Centre

While the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are recognised by archaeologists, they are also emerging as a ‘must see’ African destination for travellers. The Great Enclosure here was the settlement’s masterpiece and is second only to Egypt’s Pyramids as ancient Africa’s largest built structure. As the capital of a powerful empire, the stone city was designed and built to impress and is recognised as an achievement that hasn’t diminished over five centuries. While parts of the ancient city are in ruins, it has mostly withstood the test of time and climatic extremes. Built in the 13th Century, it thrived for more than 300 years and developed as the centre of a vast gold and ivory trading empire. It eventually declined in power and not much of it was known to the outside world until a German hunting safari stumbled across it in 1867.

At its peak, it was one of Africa’s most important settlements with 20,000 residents living within the towering stone walls. Arab and Swahili merchants brought beads and textiles from the Middle East and ceramics and glassware from as far as Asia. Priests and prophets conducted rituals within the stone enclosures while from high upon a granite fortress; the community’s spirits spoke through powerful mediums. Wars were fought, art

and architecture proliferated, and dynasties reigned and were then overthrown.

However, by the end of the 15th Century, Great Zimbabwe was abandoned, its markets closed and stone passageways and open courtyards, silenced. However, the lasting resilience of the granite structures meant that the essential infrastructure remained.

While theories have been suggested no one really knows how or why Great Zimbabwe declined. The real splendour of Great Zimbabwe is forever lost as no record remains of the names of its kings, of their victories and achievements, norof the lives of its people. Perhaps it’s these unanswered questions that make the ruins so intriguing.

The Sum of its Parts

Great Zimbabwe is divided into three areas – the Great Enclosure, the Hill Complex and the Valley Ruins.

The Hill Complex, located within one of the massive granite outcrops, forms the settlement’s oldest and original part. It was here at the top of this 80m-high hill that a small group of Shona-language people took refuge as early as the 11th Century. Over time, the hilltop community grew both in affluence and influence, and at the start of the 12th Century, the first permanent stone wall-enclosed royal residences were built.

Its stone walls and passages were incorporated into the built structures and its design and architecture is a statement of harmony with the environment.

The Great Enclosure, situated in the valley immediately below the Hill Complex, consists of a massive elliptical wall over 250m in circumference and constructed using some one million hand-hewn boulders.

Within its walls are a series of narrow passageways, ritual areas and open courtyards, one of which contains the 11m-high Conical Tower; a powerful symbol of the King. The Great Enclosure was probably used as both a residence for the King and his court as well as a temple for rituals and

ceremonies. Outside the walls of the Great Enclosure and expanding through the open woodland are the Valley Ruins. Broken down, low stonewalls meander through the valley until they peter out at the settlement’s extremities.

Expert guides conduct in-depth excursions through the ruins of the ancient capital. The origins, architecture, trading routes, social and religious practices and the ultimate mysterious decline of the city are all clearly explained over a guided tour of at least two-hours. Walks around the nearby Lake Mutirikwi Recreational Park and through the adjacent tribal lands are also available.

Enjoyment of Great Zimbabwe is dependent on the prevailing weather, but as it is exposed and in the open it’s best to take precautions against the sun and heat.

The Ancient City is located 325km south of the capital Harare and can be reached via a good road in a comfortable half day’s drive.

Zimbabweans are rightly proud of the heritage and in particular that of the civilisation of Great Zimbabwe. There is something intriguing about any ruin especially one that was once so dominant only centuries later to be abandoned. While the enclosures and passageways are empty, the energy of Great Zimbabwe radiates out into the surrounding countryside.

Travel File

Getting There

Emirates (www.emirates.com) offers the most seamless connection from Kuala Lumpur to Harare with its daily service via Dubai and Lusaka (Zambia). There’s no such thing as a short journey to the African continent, but the superior in-flight service, food, beverages and endless entertainment channels make the journey all that more enjoyable.


Norma Jeane’s Lake View Resort (www.normajeaneslakeviewresort.com) offers comfortable home-styled accommodation with a nostalgic guesthouse ambiance set in landscaped gardens and woodlands with beautiful views over Lake Kyle just 8km from Great Zimbabwe. Dining here in the formal dining room is one of Zimbabwe’s most memorable culinary experiences. In addition to hotel rooms there are self-catered lodges, budget rooms and camping facilities.


Zimbabwe Tourism (www.zimbabwetourism.net). There are several travel agents who specialise in

travel to Zimbabwe. Contact one of the following for more details on their exciting packages – African

Dream Village Travel (www.adtvt.com), A2S Safaris (www.a2asafaris.com) and Love for Africa ( w w w. l o v e – f o r – a f r i c a . c o m )

Vi s a s

Visas are available upon arrivals for most nationalities and are issued at Harare International Airport for $US30 (the accepted currency in Zimbabwe is $US and it’s a good idea to take small currency notes for tipping helpful staff).