The ruins of this complex of massive stone walls undulate across almost 1,800 acres of present-day southeastern Zimbabwe. Begun during the eleventh century A.D. by Bantu-speaking ancestors of the Shona, Great Zimbabwe was constructed and expanded for more than 300 years in a local style that eschewed rectilinearity for flowing curves. Neither the first nor the last of some 300 similar complexes located on the Zimbabwean plateau, Great Zimbabwe is set apart by the terrific scale of its structure. Its most formidable edifice, commonly referred to as the Great Enclosure, has walls as high as 36 feet extending approximately 820 feet, making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. In the 1800s, European travelers and English colonizers, stunned by Great Zimbabwe’s grandeur and its cunning workmanship, attributed the architecture to foreign powers. Such attributions were dismissed when archaeological investigations conducted during the first decades of the twentieth century confirmed both the antiquity of the site and its African origins.
Great Zimbabwe’s most enduring and impressive remains are its stone walls. These walls were constructed from granite blocks gathered from the exposed rock of the surrounding hills. Since this rock naturally splits into even slabs and can be broken into portable sizes, it provided a convenient and readily available building resource. All of Great Zimbabwe’s walls were fitted without the use of mortar by laying stones one on top of the other, each layer slightly more recessed than the last to produce a stabilizing inward slope. Early examples were coarsely fitted using rough blocks and incorporated features of the landscape such as boulders into the walls. The technique was refined over the years, and later walls were fitted together closely and evenly over long, serpentine courses to produce remarkably finished surfaces.
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2020 | Present