In southeastern Zimbabwe lies the ancient stone city of Great Zimbabwe whose unique architecture, enormous size and fabulous wealth have sparked the imagination of many over the centuries, with the earliest visitors believing it to be the legendary city of Ophir, the site of King Solomon’s mines.
Great Zimbabwe was in fact built by the ancestors of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. From 11th to 15th century AD, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which covered much of modern-day Zimbabwe, as well as parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa. The city had trading links with Kilwa (on the Swahili Coast), Persia, India and China. Great Zimbabwe spanned 8 square kilometres and was home to 20,000 people — about the same size as Rome and London at the time. The city’s economy was built around trading, mining, livestock management, agriculture and metalworking in copper, iron, gold, bronze and brass.
Great Zimbabwe roughly comprised three main zones. The Great Enclosure, most likely for administrative and religious activities, is the largest single ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa, with an outer wall that is 250 metres in circumference and is up to 11 metres high and 6 metres thick at the base, comparable to the Great Wall of China (in height and base width). The kings and royal families lived in the Hill Complex, which was also surrounded by a massive wall, along with towers and pillars of elaborate designs and geometric patterns, similar to the Great Enclosure. The Valley Complex was where citizens lived, and industry and commerce flourished.
The millions of blocks of stone that went into the walls of Great Zimbabwe have no mortar between them, and this, along with the constant gentle curves (instead of sharp corners) and complex geometric patterns, and the fact that all this stands 700 years later, suggests significant skill in architecture and design. There are about 200 of these “zimbabwes” spread out across the former Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe is the largest of them, and the one now recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
By Rahim Mawji
(Photo: AFK Insider)