Great Zimbabwe Monument is located southeast of the town of Masvingo and is one of the best preserved stone cities in sub-Saharan Africa. It is recognizes by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The modern independent state of Zimbabwe was named after the monument. The name is derived from Shona words meaning houses of stone. The ruins have been the subject of heated debate over the years from the early Europeans believing Africans could not have built them to Cecil Rhodes attributing the ruins to the Phoenicians. Historians believe that the first structures were erected around AD1100 and these were added to up until the 15th century.
The city was developed over the years as a tribute to a long succession of rulers whose kingdom stretched far and wide and was situated at a key trading position which lead to great wealth. At its peak it is thought to be home to some 18,000 people who traded in cloth, beads and ceramics from Arabia and China, via traders from East Africa, for gold, ivory and copper.
Masvingo has a population of around 70 thousand & is situated about 12 miles from Great Zimbabwe. It is around about 3 hours’ drive from either Gweru or Bulawayo. The roads from either Bulawayo or Gweru are quite decent. While driving in Zimbabwe be prepared to be stopped at the many roadblocks by the traffic police. If the police find fault and impose a 20 dollar fine be prepared to haggle. Normally 5 dollars will be sufficient.
At present in Zimbabwe there is an acute shortage of cash. The ATMs do not dispense dollars. Zimbabwean’s have developed a system of payment called ecocash which nearly everyone uses by mobile phone. Even saw a blind beggar with a card around his neck giving out his ecocash number. It is a difficult system for tourists to understand but a US dollar cash can be traded by most retailers and street vendors at roughly about 1.6 econet dollars so to get a better rate always ask. The Zimbabwean’s will be more than pleased to have US dollars and are normally very trustworthy. It is best to take as many US dollars into Zimbabwe as possible.
The admittance cost to the Monument is 15 dollars for tourists. A guide will cost 7 dollars. When i arrived there was only one guide on site so we shared with a bus party. The guide was very informative and the tour lasted about 2 hours.
The first visit was a small museum on site. Photos are not permitted inside the museum. This is a really nice small museum which houses the Zimbabwean Birds. The Zimbabwean birds are soapstone sculptures found in the ruins. The carved birds are the national emblem of Zimbabwe and are found on the national flag. The birds represent the African Fish Eagle.
The site can be divided into 3 distinct architectural groups. These are known as The Hill Complex, The Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. The Hill Complex is the oldest and was occupied from the 9th to 12th centuries. The trek to the top of the hill is quite strenuous and a decent fitness level is essential. The Great Enclosure was occupied from around the 13th to 15th centuries and the Valley Complex from around the 14th to 16th centuries.
A visit to the Great Zimbabwe Monument is a must for anyone touring the sites of Zimbabwe. It is not the easiest place to get to but well worth the effort. When hiring a guide make sure he is aware of your fitness levels. Beware of the monkeys near the entrance. The monkeys will climb onto cars and will pick up anything they think may contain food. It is important to make sure all car windows are locked in the car park.
A refreshment shop and toilet facilities are on site. Enjoy.