African shoestrings – Zimbabwe Day Ninety-Four Masvingo Zimbabwe

Before we set off to The Great Zimbabwe National Monument, we had to fix that damn battery lead once and for all and get some money out of the bank.
Let me tell you that the former was a lot easier than the latter. There’s only one ATM in Masvingo and that wasn’t working so I went inside the bank armed with my visa card whilst Sue waited in the car. Like you I’ve heard the stories of various people getting to the end of a long queue and then being told that they were in the wrong queue.
Well that’s what happened not once but THREE times!
The last queue led to a sourpuss of women who allowed a police officer with two fistfuls of US dollars to push in front of me.
Somehow I didn’t feel that this was the right place or time to protest despite my now seething frustration which was now shared by Sue who had come in to see why it was all taking so long. Eventually we got thrown our money from just about the most unhelpful, rudest and (why not!) ugliest teller that must exist anywhere in the world. It had taken an hour and a half!

Our faith was somewhat restored in Zimbabwe by the ruins of the National monument. This place is no ordinary ruins. Its what’s left of a great city and to do it justice we felt we needed more than just a booklet. Francis was one of the several guides that wait just inside the entrance for the opportunity to guide tourists around the ruins for a measly US$4.00. Concise, articulate and to the point Francis brought to life the history and civilization of this place as he lead us around the square kilometre site.

“The name Zimbabwe comes from this city. In Shona language it means ‘great stone houses'” he explained. “It was not until independence that the government accepted de fact dat it was not peoples from another continent that built this place but indigenous Africans”

Those “indigenous Africans” were the ancestors of the modern day Shona, the dominant tribe of modern Zimbabwe and its not surprising that the early colonists had doubts about the origins of this city. By the time they had arrived the indigenous people of the time lived in mud huts not in stone constructions and cities such as Great Zimbabwe were deserted and left to crumble by the ravages of time.

In the thirteenth century having already occupied this area for 100 years or more the Shona commenced construction of the ‘Hill complex’ followed later by the rest of the city. The Hill was believed to be the seat of power and the Great Enclosure is the biggest single ancient structure in sub- Saharan Africa.
At its height the city housed a population of 20,000 people and held influence over what is now Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. During the fourteenth and fifteenth century trade powered its power and influence.
The Swahili traders supplied gold, porcelain from China, Persian crockery and a wealth of trinkets from the Indian sub-continent. The city became rich, well at least the Royal Family did, as it became more powerful. There was even a legend that this was once the home of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. But in the late fifteenth century local resources where beginning to run out and its population began to dwindle as, bit by bit they left for greener pastures.
By the middle of the sixteenth century the city was deserted.

Francis walked us through the hill complex pointing out the ingenious architecture of the stone walled enclosures. Built amongst huge boulders most of these enclosures were built from uniform sized blocks and regular courses that are used still to this day. But without doubt the most stunning area is that of the Great Enclosure. It has a walled circumference of 250 metres, the walls have a height of 11 metres and a thickness of 5 metres in some places.

Both it and the 10 metres conical tower that sits at one end is still the subject of speculation about its function. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries treasure hunters and amateur Indiana Jones lookalikes removed any evidence that might have shed a light on why this huge structure was built but theories range from a court for the King’s wives to an initiation school. This last theory is based on the possibility that the tower represents a phallic symbol. All I can say is that someone must have a vivid imagination!

Francis pointed out the peculiarity of the gradual change in blocks from that of poorly matched to that of well-cut at the highest end. Obviously they must have improved their block building skills (or found a better builder) as they built this enormous circular grey wall and at that point there is another wall actually inside the enclosure mirroring the outside wall. This forms a narrow passage that runs for about a third of the enclosure’s circumference and eventually leads to the conical tower from one of the entrances.

“Dis wall is cunsideered to be de most advunced structure in Great Zimbabwe. Just loook at de way dey have tappered de couses at de top to make it stable”.

I was impressed. I could just imagine a congregation of dignitaries dressed in colourful traditional dress walking through this passage in single file towards the tower and about to initiate some teenager into adulthood in some sort of painful ceremony. How lucky we are these days the only pain we go through at puberty is zits and girls.

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Tower in the Great Enclosure at the Great Zimbabwe National Monument near Mavingo, Zimbabwe

Tower in the Great Enclosure at the Great Zimbabwe National Monument near Mavingo, Zimbabwe

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