The country of Great Zimbabwe takes its name from the ruins of an 11th-century city called Zimbabwe, which means “house of stone” in the local Shona language. These impressive ruins are called Great Zimbabwe today. The ruins lie 3okm/18 miles outside the city of Masvingo. The site spans over 7 kilometres and is estimated to have been home to a population of about 18,000 people.
There are several different stone structures, the most impressive of which is the Great Enclosure and the Royal Palace. The Great Enclosure is formed by a large high circular wall and a tower. It is the largest ancient manmade structure south of the Sahara, made even more impressive by the fact that no mortar was used and each stone had to be cut and balanced precisely. The Royal palace is a citadel on the hill, which could easily be defended.
Several carvings of stone birds were found here which are said to be fish eagles and are represented on the Zimbabwean flag. The city was the centre of an agricultural region, but its main trade was in the working of gold, and the people here had an extensive trade route that reached as far as China. The city declined in the 15th century, probably due to a series of droughts and the site was abandoned.
Visitors can take a guided tour with a knowledgeable local guide who can tell them all about the history and architecture of the impressive buildings.