Great Zimbabwe. Author and Copyright Chris Dunbar
Great Zimbabwe. Author and Copyright Chris Dunbar

Great Zimbabwe: a ruined city in the southeastern hills of Zimbabwe

Written by Marco Ramerini. Photos copyright by Chris Dunbar.

Great Zimbabwe was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe where was the royal palace and the seat of the political power. The city was surrounded by massive walls that reach 5 meters in height which were constructed without mortar.

The area where is Great Zimbabwe was occupied from the fourth century AD but the real city, whose ruins you can see today was built between 1.100 to 1.450 AD, in times of greatest glory, Great Zimbabwe, was to be inhabited by about 18,000 inhabitants and covers an area of 722 hectares.

Starting in 1300 due to the decline of trade and probably also for climate change that led to water shortages, the city was gradually abandoned, and fell into ruin. The first Europeans who visited the town were Portuguese merchants and soldiers in the early sixteenth century. In 1511 the site of Great Zimbabwe was visited by the Portuguese explorer António Fernandes.

Several Portuguese testimonials described the city, among them that of Vicente Pegado, captain of the fortress of Sofala, reported by João de Barros. This testimony shows the first description of the city as seen from the eyes of Europeans. The Portuguese who had settled at Sofala from the beginning of the 16th century frequented the area of Great Zimbabwe where were numerous gold mines.

Great Zimbabwe has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.


– Various Authors, “A Guide to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins” National Museums, 1976.

– Bessire, Mark “Great Zimbabwe” Franklin Watts, 1999

– Garlake, Peter “Great Zimbabwe (New Aspects of Archaeology)” Stein & Day Pub, 1973.

– Garlake, P. S. ” Seventeenth century Portuguese earthworks in Rhodesia” In: “South African Arch. Bull.” n° 84, 1966, pp. 157-170

– Garlake, Peter “Great Zimbabwe Described and Explained” Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare, 1985.

– Mallows, Wilfrid “Mystery of the Great Zimbabwe The Key to a Major Archaeological Enigma” Robert Hale Ltd, London, 1985.

– Newitt, M.D.D. “Portuguese settlement on the Zambese: Exploration, Land Tenure & Colonial Rule in East Africa” 434 pp. Maps, illus.& plates. Longmans, 1973, London, UK.

– Rea Francis, W. “The economics of the Zambezi missions, 1580-1759” 189 pp. Institutum Historicum S. I., 1976, Roma, Italia.

About Marco Ramerini

I am passionate about history, especially the history of geographical explorations and colonialism.