Friday, September 22, 2023

African Architecture: The Legacy of Great Zimbabwe

The Legacy of Great Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is home to at least one of the first extraordinary monuments in Africa. Built and occupied between the 11th and 15th centuries, the legacy and influences of Great Zimbabwe lived on till date. The impressive stone walls and surrounding structures are spread across the Southern hills within the country, near Masvingo.

At first glance, one would be quick to surmise that mortar was used to construct the granite walls, only to be amazed to get that they were built without a mound of mortar. The architects of this great ancient city employed a building method called dry stonewalling, which needs excellent masonry expertise.

Great Zimbabwe’s method of construction is exclusive in Africa’s architecture. within the words of Zimbabwean archaeologist Peter Garlake, the walls display “an architecture that’s unparalleled elsewhere in Africa or beyond.”


The site is split into three main architectural areas: Capitol Hill Complex, the right Enclosure, and, therefore, the Valley Enclosure.

The Hill Complex is where the king of the Shona lived. It’s also believed it served because of the spiritual and non-secular center of the town. The complex sits on a steep-sided hill that rises 80 metres above the bottom . It’s the oldest a part of the location, with the first stones having been laid there quite 900 years ago. The section is formed of rocky outcrops and enormous granite boulders that form walls of up to 11 meters high and 6 meters thick.

South of Capitol Hill Complex lies the aptly named and impressive Great Enclosure, an essential single ancient structure in Sub-Saharan Africa. This formidable edifice is where the king’s first wife lived. Its outer wall is 250 metres in circumference, with a height of 11 metres. It’s estimated that almost 1,000,000 granite blocks were wont to construct it. A 55-metre long passage results in a stone feature called the Conical Tower, with a height of 10 metres and a 5-metre diameter. While the aim of the Conical Tower is unknown, it’s believed it represented a grain bin, symbolizing good harvests and prosperity. A series of clay-hut quarters and community also are found within the Great Enclosure.

The Valley Enclosure is where the citizens, alongside the remainder of the king’s wives, resided.


Great Zimbabwe was created by the ancestors of the Shona, who structure the bulk of Zimbabwe’s population. However, the ruins’ origin remained a contentious issue for an extended time, with a slew of theories formed on who built this breathtaking monument.

Great Zimbabwe was first introduced to the broader world in 1871 by Karl Mauch, a German explorer, and geologist who refused to believe that indigenous African people were capable of making such a civilization. The story of his blatant denial is uncannily almost like that of fellow German archaeologist Leo Frobenius, who speculated that the dominion of Ife in Nigeria was the lost kingdom of Atlantis.

Perplexed Mauch thought he had come across the legendary capital of the biblical Queen of Sheba in Jerusalem when he encountered Great Zimbabwe. He stated, “I don’t think that I’m far wrong if I suppose that the ruin on Capitol Hill may be a copy of Solomon’s Temple on Mount Moriah and therefore the building within the plain a replica of the palace where the queen of Sheba lived during her visit to Solomon.” Mauch further speculated that “a civilized nation must have once lived there.”

Later, European visitors concluded that the ruins’ imposing stone structures were the work of Egyptians, Phoenicians, or maybe Prester John, the legendary Christian king popular in European chronicles and culture from the 12th through the 17th century.

Such age-old legends and notions, held for nearly 400 years, were finally dispelled by the excavations of British archaeologists David Randall-MacIver and Gertrude Caton-Thompson, which acknowledged that Africans built Great Zimbabwe.


Apart from the massive stone walls, Great Zimbabwe’s most famous artifacts are the eight birds carved in soapstone that were found in its ruins. Referred to as the Zimbabwe birds, these sculptures combine human and bird elements, substituting social features like lips and feet for the bird’s beak and claws, respectively. The Zimbabwe Bird is today a national symbol and features on the ensign. It also appears on the coat of arms and badges and logos of various Zimbabwean institutions and organizations, and previously on banknotes and coins.

While it’s going to appear the monument was named after the country, it’s actually the opposite way round. The name Zimbabwe springs from Shona words dzimba dzemabwe, which means houses of stone. Across the Zimbabwe Plateau, there are remains of a minimum of 100 other madzimbabwe.

Other objects that were recovered in Great Zimbabwe include soapstone figurines, pottery, iron gongs, elaborately worked ivory, iron and copper wire, iron hoes, bronze spearheads, and copper metals and crucibles. Gold beads, bracelets, pendants, and sheaths were also found there.

Although Great Zimbabwe was abandoned mainly around the 1450s, its cultural and historical significance endures forever. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Zimbabwe is one among the favored tourist attractions within the country, with over 200 000 visitors a year marveling at its majestic beauty and learning of the historical events that transpired many years ago.


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