Not much is known about the people and the culture of Great Zimbabwe. This is due to the fact that they had no written language and the oral traditions have not survived. What we do know is what they left behind in form of the Great Zimbabwe ruins. The Shona speaking people moved into the valley around 500 AD and began building major parts of the stone walls in the 1100s. Zimbabwe is the Shona word meaning house of rock.
The city of Great Zimbabwe is located in the present day country of Zimbabwe. Geographically it is located to the east of the Kalahari desert between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. The huge plains that surround the city can support agricultural and herding that the people of Great Zimbabwe needed to sustain themselves. It is interesting to note that although Great Zimbabwe is in the area of several rivers it is not actually on the shores of a river. The city appears to be in the middle of nowhere. It is believed, however, that the city was located on a gold-rich mine. Great Zimbabwe was used and built as a religious center and a place from which they worshipped Mwari, the creator of all life as well as the sustainer of all things.
The Elliptical building is the most impressive and extraordinary of the stone remains. The outer wall of the building is 32 feet high and up to 17 feet thick in parts. It stretches over 800 feet, forming a circumference with a maximum diameter of 293 feet. The inside of this building was probably reserved for the king or ruler for melting down gold in smelters. As well as being impressive for the fine granite walls, the city was very rich in gold. The people traded along the nearby Limpopo river. One of the most amazing aspects of this great civilization is that they had up to 20,000 people living around the elliptical building in mud huts. The huge stone buildings are built very straight and uniform and were very well planned in their construction. The stones in the major walls were perfectly fitted with each other and no mortar was used. The only openings in the wall were for the entrance and several drainage ditches. It is interesting to note the similarities of these walls to those of the castles built during Medieval Europe.
Great Zimbabwe is so well known because it is not known how it was constructed nor why the civilization declined around 1600. Much of this is due to the strange fact that the people of Great Zimbabwe left behind no record of a written language nor any oral traditions. The fact that the civilization disappeared as well as the impressive and mysterious walls make the Great Zimbabwe one of the truly lost civilizations of the world.
Nelson, Harold D. Zimbabwe, A Country Study. Washington DC: United States Government, 1983.
Bahr, Lauren S. Collier's Encyclopedia. Vol. 23, New York: P.F. Collier, INC, 1992: 774-775
Gazlake, Peter S. Great Zimbabwe. Great Britain: Hazell Watson and Viney LTD, Alesbury, 1973.
Edited by: Kristian A. Werling, firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched by: Chad E. Anderson, email@example.com
Written by: Brankica Radonjic, firstname.lastname@example.org
December 12, 1996
Text copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.