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A visit to the Great Zimbabwe


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Visiting the Great Zimbabwe, May 2012


After Indaba 2012, I travelled to Zimbabwe for 2 weeks with 3 colleagues to see for myself what it was all about. Last year at Indaba, the buzz was about Zim, so we got the idea brewing then. Zim did not disappoint. We decided to include a visit to The Great Zimbabwe National Monument, a UNESCO World Heritage site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/364




We drove from Pamushana to the Great Zimbabwe ruins in about 5 hours. The roads are good and interesting. The meaning of Zimbabwe is “Great House of Stone”. The ruins here gave the country its name: Zimbabwe.

We stayed at Norma Jeans Resort. There’s no upscale property here, but it’s still worth a visit. I suggest staying overnight and climbing the ruins early in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. The Great Zimbabwe ruins form three distinct architectural groups.




They are known as the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure.






Building of the walls began in the 11th century and lasted for 300 years. No mortar was used to build the walls that are as high as 36 feet, extending approximately 820 feet, making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. At the peak it’s believed that 18,000 people lived here. Great Zimbabwe is definitely worth a visit. You can also make it a long day tour from Camp Amalinda, nestled in the Matobo Hills.




Our great guide was Lovemore Mwayiyana Mlambo, Senior Professional Tour Guide at the National Museums & Monuments of Zimbabwe. http://www.nmmz.co.zw





This is my story in pictures with comments added by LM (Lovemore).

I highly recommend that you ask for him as your guide, when visiting Great Zimbabwe.

The Hill complex is built on top of these rocks (photo taken straight into the sun!)





LM: Some of the wall are at the edge of the cliff & have amazingly stood the test of time!

He takes us up the ancient path to the Hill Complex





The views of the Great Enclosure seen from our climb up to the Hill Complex




It is the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert




LM: Was the last major construction & about 15000 tons of stone was used for this structure. 255m in circumference, 11m high & roughly 5m wide!

Lovemore has to wait for us; the ancient path is steep and uneven




LM: The path gets narrower & narrower as you approach the hill, a strategy used for defense!

The views are great and we take many photo stops!




All the time, Lovemore is full of information for us. He stops often to tell us more.




Climbing higher and higher it gets considerably more narrow too, (photo taken by Kathy Lamb).




We’re almost there now! I'm still fighting the direct sun into my eyes and photos ...





I’m enjoying this beautiful early morning with our great guide, before the heat sets in.





LM: Just outside the royal enclosure & that smile hey!

Such incredible views from up here:





Lovemore tells the history of this site as we enter the Hill Complex:




LM: Also known as Dzimbabwe which denotes "venerated houses" in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, where the kings reside or burial place for kings but in this case it refers to the former!




The Great Zimbabwe ruins consist of these impressive stone walls built by Bantu speaking people over a 300 year period from the 11th to the 14th centuries.






The walls are constructed from granite which was readily available on site




Impressive rock formations remain built into the walls




LM: Walls built amidst boulder exhibiting highest degree of engineering in stone masonry also these architectures were in harmony with nature!


What a balancing act; no mortar was used in construction!




Lovemore is a fantastic historian




LM: Thanx Kristina! This was in the royal enclosure on the remains of daga platforms which were for different kings’ huts.


The Hill Complex is the oldest at The Great Zimbabwe ruins.




I hope this ball won't decide to roll right now!




Can we go in there? We didn’t want to miss anything!




Lovemore agrees and takes us inside. This passage way is narrow!!!




Just hanging on there! What a precise balance!




This crack is impressive – Donna remembers it well!




Many colorful lichen grow on the rocks, although beautiful, probably destructive too?




More Lichen




Entering the High Balcony Enclosure with Lovemore and Kathy




Starting down the Modern Path; it’s a bit longer, but more gentle.




I forgot what Lovemore told me about this?




As you can see, they built it right into the rocks




At its peak, estimates are that Great Zimbabwe had as many as 18,000 inhabitants, but only the royals lived in the Hill Complex.




We got our exercise that day, early in the morning before the heat set in.




These stone walls are Great Zimbabwe's most impressive remains and are still standing, built without any mortar.





We stopped at this cave, where Lovemore is telling us about the people who lived here and their culture. It's been speculated that only 200 to 300 members of the elite classes lived within the Hill Complex.





The royals who lived here had these stunning views



What sets Great Zimbabwe apart from other structures in the area is the scale of its enormous walls, the biggest south of the Sahara.





These walls may have been built to protect the royal family's privacy as the common people were not allowed up here and didn't know what went on behind these walls.





Eventually, the rocks will split like this caused by wind and water





Kathy thinks these walls are impressive!



Edited by safarimama
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Here are Lovemore's contact details. If you visit the Great Zimbabwe, ask for him to be your guide.


Lovemore Mwayiyana Mlambo says:

My phone number is +263 774 034 743 my email is lovemoremwayiyana@yahoo.com or u can use my facebook acc which i check everyday,

Edited by safarimama
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I saw Lovemore wasn't armed: is there no large wildlife in the vicinity? Osa would have been proud of your adventure ;)

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Thanks, I love the Osa wildlife books! I suppose there could be leopard in those rocks, but not really, Too many people these days come here. Lovemore also took us on a tour of the nearby dam, the afternoon before. Maybe I mention that in part 2.

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How extraordinary and beautiful. Thanks for sharing this adventure.


I wonder what late evening would be like for light, or is there a deadline on when you can leave to climb to the ruins?

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Thank you. I'm only half done! Yes, twaffle. There is an early cut-off time after which you cannot enter the monument. It's fairly early and you need at least minimum 2 hours, preferably 3 or 4 hours. It gets dark up there, so getting down in the dark would be hazardous.

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What an amazing place. Somewhere that was magical and I always wanted to visit when young. I never have so I really like your blow-by-blow photography of the site - lichens and all.

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Lovemore adds this regarding opening times: Opening time 6am to 6pm daily, as for photos I recommend an early tour for better light!

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Lovemore adds this regarding opening times: Opening time 6am to 6pm daily, as for photos I recommend an early tour for better light!


Very good advice re times. I was there a couple of years ago and we arrived a bit late. So....... limited time to fully explore and not so good for images.


Your images are lovely; thanks for sharing.


A fascinating place and well worth a visit.

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Agreed wilddog. We arrived early enough around 3pm I think and the plan was to visit that afternoon and head on out the next morning. But instead we visited Lake Kyle and the Mutirikwi Dam area and saved the Great Zimbabwe for early the next morning when it opened.

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We will be visiting Zimbabwe next September (2013) and had considered skipping this area. However, we did decide to visit it and now we are glad. Your pictures, and advice, are excellent. Thank you!

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You can camp next to the site now and can take a tour to watch the sunset but its advisable to get down before it gets too dark. Really good pictures and I would advise anyone visiting Zimbabwe to go see the monument and the museum as well. Thanks Safarimama.

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The Great Zimbabwe is really a special place - the architects obviously didn´t like straight lines or angles when building those walls. They made it their own way, without any foreign input, I haven´t seen anything like it elswhere (at least not outside Zimbabwe).


Thanks for the post and pics.


I ate the most delicious food i all of Africa at the nearby restaurant.

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Yes, so true. Do visit the museum also; it's right there. No pictures are allowed, so I almost forgot to mention it.

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Yes, Sverker (I'm originally from Sweden too; my national costume is from Leksand!) no straight lines anywhere. Also no mortar, so it works very well. An amazing place indeed! the food in Zim is outstanding. I agree with that! :)

Edited by safarimama
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  • 2 weeks later...

Part 1 was posted on Dec 8, 2012



The ruins of Great Zimbabwe ( Big House of Stone) are located 30km from Masvingo in the Mutirikwi National Park.


In around 1450, Great Zimbabwe was abandoned as the surrounding area could no longer provide sustenance for its large population.





Lovemore draws and explains about the soapstone eagles found at the site, some with human features. The eagle is now Zimbabwe's national bird and is featured on the flag.




Lovemore, the photographer!

All comments by Lovemore are inserted with LM: Naturally I’ve become a photographer!



More pictures of more balancing rocks. LM: Excellent rock formation this is Zimbabwe, a world of wonders!




Kathy, Donna and I at the top, the Great Enclosure! - listening to Lovemore below us with all the cameras !




What were you explaining here, Lovemore?




Next we will start down again, but taking the modern path this time as the ancient path is too steep.




Just one more rock to top it all off!





We have to walk very carefully here, so we don’t knock ourselves out in the narrow passage ways!!




We’re going down the hill following Lovemore on the modern path



So many interesting colors and patterns on these rocks





Following Lovemore down the Modern Path





We trust that Lovemore knows the way down!




I loved the Great Zimbabwe Hill Complex





Lovemore is a great guide. I thoroughly enjoyed his humor too! LM: Oh really, that is so cool!




Lovemore looks back - WooooHooooh! - are you with me?

LM: Descending the hill on the Watergate path now





Just a little rest on the way down! Lovemore took great care of us!




Next up - The Great Enclosure ruins and the Museum. Pictures are not allowed inside the museum, so you have to go there and see for yourself.




Walking towards the Great Enclosure with Lovemore




Looking back - up towards the Hill Complex, where we just came down from




These stone walls are up to 36 feet high; they blend beautifully into the scenery as if they grew there naturally!



There’s about 820 feet of stone wall encircling the Great Enclosure


Lovemore, tell us about the function of this stone?


LM: Used as an astronomy observatory, where a bowl of water was placed in the middle & astronomers could study the movements of stars which will be reflecting in the bowl then they cud tell the different seasons!


The Portuguese first reported about these walls in 1552


Part of the ruins are in ruins too!


The Portuguese thought this may have been Axum, one of the cities of the Queen of Sheba or Orphir


LM: Remains of hut floors were found in this inner enclosure believed to be the queen mother's abode.


Lovemore is dwarfed by these 5 feet thick walls



No mortar was used to build these beautiful walls





Impressive - makes you feel humble!


IMMENSE comes to mind!


Lovemore inside the Great walls Enclosure


Racial prejudice entered into the many theories of who built the Great Zimbabwe monument until recently.





Lovemore, tell me about this tower.

LM: It has remained a subject of conjecture, some believe it symbolizes a phallic object resembling male dominance, or a granary symbolizing abundant royal wealth, or just showing off their stone masonry expertise for decoration & many other theories which aren’t plausible .... It's fully built of bricks all the way through - it's solid stone bricks!


The word "Zimbabwe" in the Shona language means "houses of stone."


A city existed within the stone walls; the remains exist of the boys’ school.


Edited by safarimama
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Fascinating, thanks for continuing the report.

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Safarimama, am merging with the fist topic so all is kept together for anyone planning such a trip. Very interesting indeed. How do Zimbabwean's see the Great Zimbabwe? Do many schools and local people visit?

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OK, I see that you are quick, Mr. Warden. I will start part 3 to finish the report!!!! :wub:

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Visiting the Great Zimbabwe National Monument, May 2012, part 3



Mystery still surrounds the theories of why and who built Great Zimbabwe and why it was abandoned 400 years later




LM: When dealing with non-literate societies like Great Zim, it must be inferred from beliefs of descendant cultures, historical accounts & telltale symbolism encoded in architect, space use & a site's relationship to the surrounding landscape, however environmental degradation seems most likely to be the cause of the decline due to the burgeoning population whom were proven anthropologically, ethno-historically & archeologically that they were bantu speakers known as the Shona which makes 83% of the population in present day Zimbabwe!





If these walls could talk!


As archeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson declared back in 1931: Examination of all the existing evidence, gathered from every quarter, still can produce not one single item that is not in accordance with the claim of Bantu origin and medieval date. The interest in Zimbabwe and the allied ruins should, on this account, to all educated people be enhanced a hundred-fold; it enriches, not impoverishes, our wonderment at their remarkable achievement ... for the mystery of Zimbabwe is the mystery which lies in the still pulsating heart of native Africa.




Kay and Kathy are dwarfed by the Great Enclosure




Thanks Lovemore! We learned so much today - you're great photographer too!!



As an afterthought: Lovemore also guided us to the nearby Lake Mutirikwi Dam, formerly known as Lake Kyle.




The dam was built in 1960 to provide irrigation water to the farming estates on the lowveld southwest of Masvingo. The main crop grown here is sugar cane.


The lake is also used for recreations as it offers great fishing. If you’re lucky you may encounter Njuzu here, a beautiful mermaid. Don’t confuse her though with one of the many big crocs here.







The END!!!

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What happened to the 2nd in the series? I posted a reply and now the whole thing has gone. :(

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In response the Game Warden's question straight from Lovemore: Zimbabweans are proud of the site & it has become a rich source of inspiration; during festive season more than a thousand local people visit per day & schools are not exceptional; roughly 300 to 400 schools visit per annum!

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  • 2 years later...
Tom Kellie


~ @@safarimama


Very nice!

The color layers are pleasing.

The decorative effect of the palm trees is striking, as was your entire report about Great Zimbabwe.

It was so thoughtful of you to share such a lively commentary with photos on Safartalk.

With Appreciation,

Tom K.

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