The Royal House of Stone

It was on a hot sunny afternoon when we started touring Great Zimbabwe. Before embarking on the tour, we were given a guide who took the time to explain the route we were going to use, what was acceptable during the tour and the areas of the ruins we would see. He told us that the tour was divided into four stops; the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex, the Great Enclosure and the museum.

We started the tour with a brief visit to the museum. This is where we saw informative displays of the ruins. The museum also holds numerous soapstone bird sculptures that once stood proudly on guard atop the walls. Artifacts also found in the museum include pottery.

When we left the museum the tour of the ruins began. The first part we visited was the Great Enclosure. The Great Enclosure was the royal compound. It was occupied from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. It is the largest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa. Its outer wall is 250m in circumference with a maximum height of eleven meters. An inner wall runs along part of the outer wall forming a narrow parallel passage and it is 55m long. It was built out of granite blocks, laid in regular courses, and contains a series of dagga-hut living quarters. The Great Enclosure was home to the king’s many wives. Stacked stone walls contained natural boulders at the summit of the King’s Mountain. These walls created chambers and a courtyard which restricted access to the king and his attendants.

After visiting the Great Enclosure, we toured the Hill Complex. It was a long and tiresome journey climbing up the steps but eventually we reached the complex. The Hill Complex was used for rituals. It is believed to have been the spiritual and religious center of the city. It sits on a steep-sided hill that raises 80m above the ground and extends for about 145m. It is the oldest part of the site.

We rounded up our tour at the Valley complex. This complex is divided into Upper and Lower Valley Ruins which had different periods of occupation. The Valley Complex was mainly built for the citizens. The ordinary citizens, rather than the elite, lived in this area of Great Zimbabwe. These ruins consist of the ruins number One to Three, Ridge Ruins, Render Ruins, Philip Ruins, Maund Ruins, East ruins, and Posselt Ruins.

 I learned that Great Zimbabwe was built by the Shona people using dry walling. Great Zimbabwe served as a royal palace for the monarch and was a symbol of political power. The Shona King lived atop the mountain. The Great Zimbabwe served as the capital of the Shona Kingdom from about 1250A.D until about 1500. At its peak, it was home to 25000 people. Access to the King’s Mountain was through narrow passageways that ascended steeply on one side of the mountain. There were many check points where guards could drop stones on the heads of people considers as threats. A stacked-stone wall surrounded the King’s Palace at the top of the King’s Mountain. A tiny opening at the base of the wall forced all who entered to bow as a sign of respect for the king.

The ruins are the largest collection of ruins in Africa, south of the Sahara. It is one of the greatest national monuments in Zimbabwe. What really impresses me is how the Shona people built Great Zimbabwe using stones without any mortar. The tour took a whole day and it was tiresome but interesting. Great Zimbabwe is a great piece of art that needs to be preserved for future generations.

Great Zimbabwe served as a royal palace for the monarch and was a symbol of political power.

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