How to Great in Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe was a medieval African city known for its large circular wall and tower. It was part of a wealthy African trading empire that controlled much of the East African coast from the 11th to the 15th century C.E.


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Ancient Civilizations, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

Great Zimbabwe is the name for the stone remains of a medieval city in southeastern Africa. It is composed of three parts, including the Great Enclosure (shown here). It is believed to have been a royal residence or a symbolic grain storage facility.

Great Zimbabwe is the name of the stone ruins of an ancient city near modern-day Masvingo, Zimbabwe. People lived in Great Zimbabwe beginning around 1100 C.E. but abandoned it in the 15th century. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which was a Shona (Bantu) trading empire. Zimbabwe means “stone houses” in Shona.

Great Zimbabwe was part of a large and wealthy global trading network. Archaeologists have found pottery from China and Persia, as well as Arab coins in the ruins there. The elite of the Zimbabwe Empire controlled trade up and down the east African coast. However, the city was largely abandoned by the 15th century as the Shona people migrated elsewhere. The exact reasons for the abandonment are unknown, but it is likely that exhaustion of resources and overpopulation were contributing factors.

The archaeological site at Great Zimbabwe consists of several sections. The first section is the Hill Complex, a series of structural ruins that sit atop the steepest hill of the site. This is generally believed to have been the religious centre of the site. The Hill Complex is the oldest part of Great Zimbabwe and shows signs of construction that date to around 900 C.E.

The ruins of the second section, the Great Enclosure, are perhaps the most exciting. The Great Enclosure is a walled, circular area below the Hill Complex dating to the 14th century. The walls are over 9.7 meters (32 feet) high in places, and the enclosure’s circumference is 250 meters (820 feet). The walls were built without mortar, relying on carefully shaped rocks to hold the wall’s shape on their own. Inside the enclosure is a second set of walls, following the same curve as the outside walls, which end in a stone tower 10 meters (33 feet) high. While the function of this enclosure is unknown, archaeologists suggest it could have been a royal residence or a symbolic grain storage facility. It is one of the largest existing structures from ancient sub-Saharan Africa.

The third section is the Valley Ruins. The Valley Ruins consist of a significant number of houses made mostly of mud-brick (daga) near the Great Enclosure. The distribution and number of houses suggest that Great Zimbabwe boasted a large population, between 10,000–20,000 people.

Archaeological research has unearthed several soapstone bird sculptures in the ruins. These birds are thought to have served a religious function and may have been displayed on pedestals. These birds appear on the modern Zimbabwean flag and are national symbols of Zimbabwe.

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe were designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1986. There have only been a limited number of archaeological excavations of the site. Unfortunately, significant looting and destruction occurred in the 20th century at the hands of European visitors. Although they were all too happy to explore and loot the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, in their racism, European colonists thought the city was too sophisticated to have been built by Africans, and instead thought it had been built by Phoenicians or other non-African people. However, despite the damage done by these colonial looters, today, the legacy of Great Zimbabwe lives on as one of the largest and most culturally important archaeological sites of its kind in Africa.

How do you greet in Zimbabwe?


  1. Greet anyone older than yourself first.
  2. The common greeting is a firm handshake with the right hand.
  3. The traditional greeting involves a clap after the handshake.
  4. Women may lower their body briefly, kneel or curtsy whilst shaking hands out of respect.
  5. Family and friends may hug and pat one another on the back.

What is found in Great Zimbabwe?

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Great Zimbabwe was part of a large and wealthy global trading network. Archaeologists have found pottery from China and Persia, as well as Arab coins in the ruins there. The elite of the Zimbabwe Empire controlled trade up and down the east African coast.

What still stands in Great Zimbabwe today?

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The Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe has declined, but the House of Rock still stands.