Great Zimbabwe is the ruins of an ancient city in the south-eastern area of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe and the town of Masvingo. It is believed to be the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s late iron age. Construction on the monument began in the 11th century and continued until the 15th century. The stone city spans an area of 7.22 square kilometres which, at its peak, may have housed as many as 18 000 people. It is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Great Zimbabwe is believed to have been the royal palace for the local monarch and as such would have been used as the seat of political power. The walls were constructed without mortar (dry stone). Eventually, the city was abandoned and fell to ruin.
Great Zimbabwe was adopted by the Zimbabwe Government and the modern independent state was named after it. The word “Great” distinguishes this site from the many small ruins, now known as “zimbabwes” which are spread across the Zimbabwe Highveld. There are 200 such sites in Southern Africa such as Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manyikeni in Mozambique, with monumental, mortar-less walls but Great Zimbabwe is the largest of these.
The most important artefacts recovered from the Great Zimbabwe monument are the 8 Zimbabwe Birds. These are carved from soapstone on the tops of the monoliths the height of a person. Other artefacts include soapstone figurines, pottery, iron gongs, ivory, iron, copper wire, iron hoes, bronze spearheads, copper ingots and crucibles and gold beads, bracelets, pendants and sheaths. Glass beads and porcelain from China and Persia among other foreign artefacts were also found attesting the international trade linkages of the Kingdom.