Arts & Culture

Great Zimbabwe National Monuments -13th Century Architectural Splendour

At the centre of neatly packed stone structures is a long, about 40 feet tower, skilfully built by brick size carved stones in a conic shape, dwarfing the great complex of stone walls covering a space of about 1800 acres.At first glance, reason will quickly conclude that the architects of this great medieval city used mounds and mounds of mortar to keep the structures as neat and intact as they are today, yet you will be left puzzled by this architectural splendour on learning that the structures are actually built without mortar and yet have managed to stand the test of time. Phenomenal!

On either side of the conical tower are two huge indigenous trees that appear to have also lived out the ancient times of this place. These trees, no doubt witnessed the 13th century life at this place and if they were humans, today they could be the autochthons of wisdom from which we could tape an undisputed history of the life of people who once settled at this place.

This is what is today known as the Great Enclosure at the Great Zimbabwe National Monuments, an ancient capital, one of the greatest medieval cities in Sub-Sahara Africa where 10 000 to 20 000 people once lived.

Here, one is left to condemn modernity and indeed, colonialism for had it not been for these two pushing factors, this city could be still a hive of activity with the owners probably having modified it in their own way and pace.

Also known as the Mutapa Empire, surely one has to be at this city to appreciate how powerful, its ancient ruler, Nyatsimba Mutota, was especially when he reportedly used forced labour to create the marvel, which Great Zimbabwe National Monuments is.

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No wonder why Nyatsimba Mutota’s other name was Mutapa meaning (one who captures) for history has it that this great man of the medieval times would scout for men with physical strength, capturing them before contracting them as labourers for the construction of the city.

But the question that boggles the mind of most visitors is the origins of the knowledge of the people who came up with the idea of laying stone after stone without mortar. What with other structures like the tower as long as 40 feet high!
As if to confirm that the people who constructed these structures had some training in stone work of some sort, the great enclosure has some drainage openings, neatly shaped. Also, after reaching a certain height in almost every wall, there is a uniform chevron stylish pattern that beautifies the structures.

The tower at the great enclosure is the tallest structure, which history has it that at the top of it used to stay a “watcher” who would be always check out for any impending danger especially from the warlike Ndebeles who were said to be a constant threat. The Ndebele threat is said to be the reason Nyatsimba Mutota later abandoned this great city to go far north. There are many theories believed to have caused the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe National Monuments but from the amount of investment and effort that was put in construction of the city, it is evident that it took a great leap of thought from the people who constituted the dare, or politburo (highest decision making body) of that era to convince Mutota and his people to finally abandon that city.

Mutota later died in Dande but not before he tried to build some structures almost similar to those at Great Zimbabwe National Monuments. Of course Great Zimbabwe was a capital city the central ridge enclosure, the valley enclosure and the hill enclosure completing its “suburbs”. The hill enclosure is said to be where the Mutota later moved in efforts to evade repeated threats of attacks from the Ndebeles.

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It is precariously perched at the hill top with some of the structures built on seemingly rolling cliffs but with no mortar or steel ring reinforcements.

It took close to 30 minutes for me and my colleagues to reach the hill enclosure where it sits overlooking the others. You need to have bulging muscles and a bit of commitment to get there.

At the hill enclosure are various compartments including the Dare (traditional court) where those who would have breached the laws and constitution of that era were hauled to stand before the King.

Once a royal palace and a sacred place, the hill enclosure is now an ordinary home to baboons and when we finally reached the summit, a congress of baboons gathered on a boulder within the enclosure as if to discuss serious family issues. While grudgingly paving way for us as we explored the splendour of the structures, the baboons could be heard producing some grumbling noises, which we could not decode but easily inferred were directed at us as they felt we were intruders.

Ascending and descending the hill enclosure is muscle straining but the people who lived there would walk up and down the hill every day to brief and debrief the King.

This is how strong these people were but above all one needs to visit this great ancient city to appreciate how intact, communal and closely people who lived at this place were. (Freedom Mupanedemo)

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