The Rise of Great Zimbabwe:
The Great Zimbabwe society is believed to have become increasingly influential during the 11th Century. The Swahili, the Portuguese and Arabs who were sailing down the Mozambique coast began trading porcelain, cloth and glass with the Great Zimbabwe people in return for gold and ivory. As the Great Zimbabwe people flourished, they built an empire whose huge stone buildings which would eventually spread over 200 square miles (500 km2). It is thought that as many as 18,000 people lived here during its heyday.
The fall of Great Zimbabwe:
By the 15th Century, Great Zimbabwe was in decline due to over population, disease and political discord. By the time the Portuguese arrived in search of rumored cities built of gold, Great Zimbabwe had already fallen into ruin.
Recent History of Great Zimbabwe:
During colonial times when white supremacy was in vogue, many believed that Great Zimbabwe couldn’t possibly have been built by black Africans. Theories were bandied around, some believed that Great Zimbabwe was built by Phoenicians or Arabs. Others believed white-settlers must have built the structures. It wasn’t until 1929 that archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson categorically proved that Great Zimbabwe was built by black-Africans.
Nowadays, various tribes in the region claim that Great Zimbabwe was built by their ancestors. Archaeologists generally agree that the Lemba tribe is most likely responsible.
Why Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe:
Despite the facts, colonial administrations as late as the 1970’s still denied that black Africans were the creators of this once great city. This is why Great Zimbabwe became an important symbol, especially to those fighting the colonial regime during the 1960’s through to independence in 1980. Great Zimbabwe symbolized what black Africans were capable of despite denials by white men in power at the time. Once power was rightfully transferred to the majority, Rhodesia was named Zimbabwe.
The name “Zimbabwe” was most likely derived from the Shona language; dzimba dza mabwe means “house of stone”.
Great Zimbabwe Ruins Today:
Visiting the Great Zimbabwe ruins was a highlight of my trip to that country, and they should not be missed. The skill with which the stones were laid is impressive given the lack of mortar. The Great Enclosure is quite something, with walls as high as 36 feet extending approximately 820 feet.
You need a full day to explore the 3 main areas that are of interest, the Hill Complex (which also offers wonderful views), the Great Enclosure and the museum. The museum holds many of the artifacts found among the ruins including pottery from China.