Waterfall Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe


Deep in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, where humanity perhaps first began to walk, lies Great Zimbabwe.  Although the country is now called Zimbabwe, prior to 1965 it was known to the British imperialists as Southern Rhodesia.  The hotly contested space is full of natural resources, scarce in sub-Saharan Africa, such as minerals, wildlife, and agriculture.  Little is known about the medieval history of this part of Africa, so the civilization existing at Great Zimbabwe is much respected and considered a phenomenal pan-African landmark for its historical importance.  Great Zimbabwe today is a single archaeological site marking the territory where an ancient agricultural people settled and built monumental architecture.

Wildlife Zimbabwe

flickr image by marts88

The most prominent feature is the Elliptical Temple in the center of the city.  It is conical and represents a giant grain bin.  However, nothing could have been stored inside the Elliptical Temple as it solid stone.  Inhabitants may have worshipped the giant grain bin, or at least performed ritual ceremonies in front of the symbolic grain bin to ask the local divinity for rains and crops.  The entire city is built on an older mound dating to a period well before the 14th century of the Common Era, to which the visible remains are from.  Sometime in the 16th century, the city was largely abandoned, likely because of the impending arrival of Europeans in search of gold.  The Europeans probably disrupted trade routes and struck fear into the ears of locals causing a major panic and migration.  The 10,000 or so inhabitants left, leaving the large stone structures empty and useless.  The massive stonewalls which surround specific parts of the city probably served functions other than defense, as cattle and other livestock could be contained within these fortified pens.  Kings or priests may have harvested the cattle as a commodity other than grain.

Great Zimbabwe

flickr image by by taniyamorris

Beside the Elliptical Temple-tower, the city’s most famous discovery is the soapstone birds.  They are eight pieces of art carved into stone pillars and average about a meter in height.  The birds look both human and avian, leading to a theory that they represent divinity or a line of kings akin to ancient Egypt.  Because the precise location of the original soapstone birds cannot be determined, their function and history cannot be explored in-depth.  However, their importance is displayed daily as they adorn the national coat of arms and flag of Zimbabwe.

When the Europeans finally did arrive on the site they pillaged and looted whatever was leftover, including art and gold.  Much of the decor and furnishings existing on the monuments were defaced or raised, leaving only remnants for modern study.  For the local tribes who still live in the area, Great Zimbabwe occupies a special place in their historical narrative, being incorporated into their mythology and origin story.  Considering the current political state of Zimbabwe and other countries in this part of Africa, Great Zimbabwe lingers on as a testament to a bountiful past.  The future cultivation of history in the region could be one method to bring peace and stability, showing a common ancestral origin and fellowship of people.  Traveling to Great Zimbabwe could be a hazardous but rewarding journey for any experienced backpacker.

Date posted: 24th March, 2014

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