Great Zimbabwe is a landmark engineering feat in Africa second only to the pyramids of Egypt. There has been extensive debate on who possibly could have erected this monument, from the Queen of Sheba, Phoenicians, Europeans even perhaps aliens from out of space, but scholars and archaeologists have since agreed Shona ancestors reigned here.
I grew up in Masvingo with Great Zimbabwe just a few kilometers away and save for a school trip back in primary school I had never visited these ancient ruins, which also holds true for a large number of local population. You’ll ask them if they have ever been there and they will shrug their shoulders as if to say they aren’t really missing anything, besides they aren’t tourists.
Woke up one day and decided… why not? Off to the ruins, we went.
You might want to note that it will cost you $5 a head to visit the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. There is also an extra charge for a tour guide, but we decided to waiver that option as we hadn’t budgeted for that.
As soon as I entered the premises, instantly regretted my decision of not having tried to squeeze in the extra $8 to get a tour guide. The infomercial signpost that greets you was practically ineligible fortunately, in our group we had someone who had been there more recently so they knew the way to go.
Hill Complex Great Zimbabwe
First stop was the Hill Complex. Back in the day the warriors would be watching over the valley below from the hilltop acropolis.
There are 4 pathways leading up to the Hill Complex:
The Ancient Ascent
The Terrace Ascent
The Watergate Ascent
The Modern Ascent
We opted to go up via the Modern Path which is the longest way round but has a gentle slope. Close to the summit the path connects with the Watergate Path (which back in the day was the path used by those who were ferrying water from the valley below)
The Modern Path has a scenic route which gives a breathtaking view of the plains below and on a clear day, you can see the waters of Lake Mutirikwe (formerly lake Kyle) Lake Mutirikwe is the largest inland man-made lake in Zimbabwe.
At the peak of the hilltop fortification, again the absence of a tour guide became apparent, we simply explored the mazes of the fortified walls, took in the sights and snapped off a couple of pictures.
From the Hill Complex vantage point you can see the Great Enclosure down below and you can also hear the drums playing from the Shona Village.
There was also an interesting structure that looks like like likely it was a black smith’s workshop to smelt iron for tools, this was more of a guess as there are no indicators… The only signpost I did see was the one warning visitors not to climb the walls.
Going down from the Hill Complex we took the more adventurous and steep Ancient Path, and that one is physically exerting, you can feel the deep burn in your calves and thighs. It feels a tad scary and exhilarating at the same time and I was relieved to be back on ground level. I didn’t get a chance to check out the Terrace Path which was the one the warriors used to quickly ascent or descent from the Hill Complex.
Great Enclosure Great Zimbabwe
Next we scouted out the Great Enclosures and the famous conical tower. As we approached the enclosure and ruins, I wondered about the trees, which turned out to be Aloe Vera, who knew if you left the Aloe Vera shrub long enough it would grow into a palm tree like vegetation. Unfortunately, again there was no one to ask if these had been part of the ecosystem or had they sprouted long after the fall of the Great Zimbabwe Empire.
While I did goof around to pose for an image or two, the place has a certain majesty that demands reverence, without being told you just know to be respectful and use your inside voice.
How did we move from some such mind-bending architecture that was clearly ahead of its time to a generation afraid of its own shadows.
The Reconstructed Karanga Village Great Zimbabwe
The most fun and informative part of the day was visiting the Karanga village. It was a reconstructed village to showcase how the life in a typical Shona homestead would be like. I actually learnt a few things that made me wish I was still at school so I could show off the knowledge of my ancestry.
The were thatched structures each with little plaques to let you know what such a place would have been used for, from the kraal for keeping livestock to the Gota where the boys would sleep close to the gate and the livestock to the various kitchens for all the wives of a polygamist. The first wife vahosi had the biggest kitchen while they got smaller for each subsequent wife, with the youngest wife nyachide having the smallest but usually being the most beloved by the husband.
Even without a guide that was quite an immersive experience and for those inclined they can spend a night there and experience a traditional African night (for a fee) Maybe next time I will explore this option.
It’s quite a pilgrim’s journey that leaves you in awe of the skill and knowledge of our ancestors. Although I feel that whoever is responsible for preserving our heritage site is not fully utilising the potential to experience what life would have been like in the ancient ruins. Especially since we took an unguided tour, we didn’t know what to look out for and may have missed some significant details.
They could have at least had some sort of informative pamphlets or these days of technology even an interactive map-app which serves as a virtual tour guide.
By the time we had finished our circuit of everything the Museum had closed, maybe visiting the information could have provided me with the wealth of information I feel like I missed out on and not just the stuff I already know from history class.
Would I go back again – totally although I would recommend the guided tour – Also you might want to carry bottled water the mountain excursion can parch the throat.
Great Zimbabwe Price Guide:
|Monuments and Sites Entrance Fees|
Masvingo Tourism is running a promo pay the entrance fee for the first 50 who are going to visit the ancient ruins between now and 31 August 2022.
Week 3 Stories of world WinterABC