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The Great Zimbabwe Ruins.

No Queen of Sheba Involved! Great Zimbabwe Ruins and Those Who Fought for the Truth

Great Zimbabwe was a medieval city of unparalleled architecture in southern Africa. Construction of the stone buildings started in the 11th century and continued for over 300 years. The city, built entirely of stone, spans an area of 1,780 acres, and although it was once thought to have housed up to 18,000 people, this figure has been revised to 10,000.

The city’s buildings were made of impressive granite walls, embellished with turrets and towers, and graced by elegant stairways. The most notable of the buildings, an enclosure 250 meters (820 ft) round and 9.75 meters (32 ft) high, was crafted using no mortar and almost a million blocks of skillfully cut stone. Its perimeter columns were decorated with soapstone sculptures of a silhouetted bird with human lips and five-fingered feet.

The famous soapstone birds. (Public Domain)

The famous soapstone birds. (Public Domain )

The whole site is woven with an ancient drainage system which still works, channeling water away from the buildings down into the valleys. Only a few hundred members of the elite classes are thought to have lived inside these massive stone buildings, protected by guards who patrolled the walls.

The Rumors of Glory and the Denial

In the early 16th century, rumors of an abandoned fortress with immense walls spread across Europe. Surrounded by goldmines and sitting on an elevation, the city was thought to represent a unique African civilization which had traded with distant countries.

The Great Zimbabwe Ruins. (Erik Törner /CC BY NC SA 2.0)

The Great Zimbabwe Ruins. (Erik Törner / CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

The earliest known written mention of the Great Zimbabwe ruins was in 1531 by Vicente Pegado, a Portuguese sea captain . He had heard the rumors from Arab merchants and Moorish traders who had visited the area and possessed knowledge of the region.

In the 19th century, Europeans who visited this abandoned medieval city refused to believe that indigenous Africans could have built such an extensive network of monuments. The condescending speculation linked the ruins to the Queen of Sheba . This myth was so widely accepted, it took many years to debunk. Such ignorance was disastrous for the remains of Great Zimbabwe.

Who Really Built Great Zimbabwe?

The word ‘ zimbabwe’ translates to house of stone. Research has finally proven that Great Zimbabwe was founded in the 11h century by a Bantu population of the Iron Age, the Shona. In 1905, British archaeologist David Randall-MacIver determined the ruins were medieval and built by the local African Bantu peoples. In 1929 his findings were confirmed by another British archaeologist, Gertrude Caton-Thompson.

The conical tower and millions of drystone bricks. (amanderson2/CC BY 2.0)

The conical tower and millions of drystone bricks . (amanderson2/CC BY 2.0 )

Much about Great Zimbabwe is still a mystery, but the Queen of Sheba never lived there. Instead, at any given time during Great Zimbabwe's heyday, thousands of black southern Africans did. The majority of scholars believe that it was built by members of the Gokomere culture, who gave rise to the maShona and the waRozwi tribes of Zimbabwe.

Great Zimbabwe was well positioned to control trade routes through to the Indian Ocean coast with Asia and the Middle East for the export of gold and other resources, and land routes which stretched up into East Africa. Merchants traded along these routes with goods such as glass beads, cloth, and Chinese porcelain.

Much is still unknown about the ancient site as no primary written documents remain. Great Zimbabwe’s history is derived from archaeological and anthropological evidence found at the site; plus the oral history of the local Shona and the architecture of Great Zimbabwe reflect an intricate socio-economic system. The monumental stone walls were constructed to express the wealth and power of those living within them, an elite population either closely related to or serving a powerful monarchy - a culture comparable to the Roman and Egyptian civilizations.

Great Zimbabwe Wall. (Erik Törner /CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Great Zimbabwe Wall. (Erik Törner / CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

A Highly Controversial and Ultimately Undeniable Truth

Studies of the monument were highly controversial. Political pressure was put on archaeologists by the government of what was then Rhodesia to deny construction by native Africans. The official line during the 1960s and 1970s was that Great Zimbabwe was not built by locals, and censorship of guidebooks, museum displays, school textbooks, radio programs, newspapers, and films was common.

Other European writers, also believing that Africans did not have the capacity to build anything of significance, suggested it was built by travelers – Portuguese, Arabs, Chinese or Persians.

Later, Great Zimbabwe became a symbol of achievement by Africans and to the locals; reclaiming their heritage was a major aim. In 1980 the new internationally recognized independent country of Zimbabwe was renamed for the site, and its famous soapstone bird carvings found at the ruins were used as a national symbol and depicted on the new flag.

The Flag of Zimbabwe. (Public Domain)

The Flag of Zimbabwe. (Public Domain )

Unbelievable Wealth Discovered

The famous eight Zimbabwe Birds, once erroneously attributed to the Phoenicians, were carved from soapstone on the tops of columns the height of a person. Other artifacts found at the site include: figurines, pottery, iron gongs, elaborately worked ivory, iron and copper wire, bronze spearheads, copper ingots and crucibles, to name a few. Glass beads and porcelain from China and Persia are among the foreign artifacts found, which confirm the international trade links.

More than 4,000 gold and 500 copper mines were found around the site, and thousands of gold necklaces have been discovered among the ruins.

Causes for the decline and ultimate abandonment of the site, around 1450, have been attributed to a decline in trade, the exhaustion of the gold mines, political instability, as well as famine and water shortages due to climatic change.

Aerial view of Great Zimbabwe's Great Enclosure and adjacent ruins looking southeast from the Hill Fort. (Janice Bell/CC BY SA 4.0)

Aerial view of Great Zimbabwe's Great Enclosure and adjacent ruins looking southeast from the Hill Fort. (Janice Bell/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

The Damage by Treasure and Thrill-Seekers

Today, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are a shell of the city that Captain Pegado heard about – largely due to the treasure-hunters in search of artifacts that were sent to museums throughout the world at the turn of the 20th century. And unfortunately a curator of Great Zimbabwe, appointed in 1902 by the British South Africa Company, destroyed archaeological deposits.

Reconstruction attempts by Zimbabwe nationalists since 1980 have caused further damage, as have those who climb the walls.

The site is now faced by uncontrolled growth of vegetation, which threatens the stability of its dry stone walls.

Great Zimbabwe. (Erik Törner /CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Great Zimbabwe. (Erik Törner / CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

Tourist Experience

Experienced tour guides of these great ruins are available to show visitors where the kings sat and watched over the people, where they held their religious ceremonies, and where the glorious Zimbabwe birds were found.

Great Zimbabwe has been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government and proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Top image: The Great Zimbabwe Ruins. Source: Jan Van Der Voort /Adobe Stock

By Michelle Freson

References

Peel, T and B. 2018. More about these Ancient Zimbabwe Ruins. Victoria Falls Guide. Available at: https://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/ancient-zimbabwe.html

Staff Writer. 2016. Lost cities #9: racism and ruins – the plundering of Great Zimbabwe. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/18/great-zimbabwe-medieval-lost-city-racism-ruins-plundering

Great Zimbabwe National Monument. UNESCO. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364

Staff Writer. Great Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe Ruins. Available at: http://www.greatzimbabweruins.com/

Peel, T and B. 2018. More about these Ancient Zimbabwe Ruins. Victoria Falls Guide. Available at: https://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/ancient-zimbabwe.html

Comments

To me the Great Zimbabwe plan looks as something similar to the Maltese islands' ancient temples layout ! I think that the modern Zimbabwe ruins that we see today were the 11th century reconstruction of the much older stone structures ! So, there's much more archeological work to be done on this site !
Why does UNESCO allow the fake reconstructions of such World Heritage sites like this one ?

Give me a freakin break this title say's "those that fought for the truth"
an the truth is this article is not really telling it like it is let alone telling
the ("truth") I mean come on you darn well know the Europeans are
and or were right the bantu population did not construct that if they
did than how come they cant replicate an make something similar
or different on the rest of the sub continent not to mention how and
why didn't the rest of the Sub Saharan African population in Sub Saharan
Africa not do the same thing like that certain tribe that allegedly built the Great
Zimbabwe wall

we all know why because they are a genetically failed an inept,stupid race
the funny thing is Italians,Greeks can still construct the same architectural
building designs that their ancestors have accomplished eons ago so why
cant the bantu population do the same thing today.

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