The name Zimbabwe means ‘house of stone’ in the local Shona language. This refers to Great Zimbabwe – a ruined city which lies about 30 km/18 mi outside of the city of Masvingo. The region was an important trading centre from the 11th – 15th centuries in the late Iron age of Southern Africa. The site spans over 7 kilometres and at its height is estimated to have been home to 18,000 people.
There are several structures, including the citadel which is often called the Royal Palace and the Great Enclosure. The large circular wall and great tower of the Great Enclosure are the largest ancient monument south of the Sahara. All these structures are built out of hand-cut stone with no mortar. Several stone carvings of birds were also found, which today are represented on the Zimbabwean flag. The population thrived on agriculture, gold and trade. The city went into decline in the 15th century probably due to a spate of droughts.
Visitors can book a tour with a local guide of the ruins and climb up to the royal citadel which has commanding views of the surrounding area. The guides explain about the history of the Bantu Shona people who called Great Zimbabwe home.
Access: How to get to Great Zimbabwe
Most visitors fly into Victoria Falls or Harare and will visit Great Zimbabwe as part of a multi-day tour. It lies 350 kilometres south from Harare, about 4 hours 30 min drive. It is a 9-hour drive from Victoria Falls. Most visitors will stay in the nearby town of Masvingo.
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