Situated in a scenic area of granite outcrops, miombo woodland and right next to one of several recreational lakes in central Zimbabwe, the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe is a wonderful diversion between north, south, east and west. The Lake Muturikiwe features an excellent game reserve with scenic mountains framing images of rhino and antelope at the water's edge. Further afield is Antelope Park, a small private game reserve dedicated to restoring Africa's lion population to a happier state.
Great Zimbabwe is a designated UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site for its extraordinary architecture and rich archeological and anthropological history. Construction began in the 11th century and the city evolved and expanded for 300 years as a major trading post between Africa and Asia.
The ancient city of Great Zimbabwe comprises three distinct sites: the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure. This last construction features a 250m-long enclosing wall up to 11m high making it the largest ancient structure in Africa outside of Egypt. Inside the Great Enclosure is an inexplicable cone-shaped tower, apparently solid, 10m high and 6m in diameter, built entirely of masoned stone without a trace of mortar.
The Hill Complex is the oldest of the three sites and features fortified walls, labyrinthine passageways and a venerated Eastern Enclosure thought to have been a shrine housing eight soapstone birds. The carved birds, resembling bateleur eagles with human features, sit on metre-high plinths with ornate bases, which appear to fit into slots carved into a platform forming a circle of spiritual ancestors or kings. The Zimbabwe Bird is now symbolised on the national flag and is a recurring motif throughout the country.
Early archeologists removed the birds from the ruins and only six been recovered. Five of the birds reside in Zimbabwe and a sixth is in Cecil Rhodes's former home - now a museum - in South Africa. Legend has it that Zimbabwe will find peace when all eight of these birds are returned to their resting place inside the shrine.
You will need at least half a day to explore the 730ha site and the accompanying museum - as much a part of history as the ruins themselves - and what better place to hole up than the shores of a scenic lake? Lake Muturikiwi is a large recreational lake about 10km from the Great Zimbabwe National Monument. A day spent water-skiing, fishing, game viewing on foot and enjoying a scenic sunset cruise on the lake will round off your cultural diversion nicely. Also within easy driving distance, about two hours from Great Zimbabwe Monument, is Antelope Park where you can stay overnight in charming riverside chalets and enjoy a variety of fascinating wildlife encounters including elephant-back safaris and a walk in the bush with lions.
More In Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a small country and its diverse attractions are packed into short easy drives or even quicker, easier flights. Expect beautiful waterfalls and rivers, exceptional wildlife safaris and spectacular scenery from classic African plains to vast river valleys, mystical hills and misty mountains.
Mana Pools National Park
Mana Pools National Park occupies a vast flood plain along the Zambezi River in northern Zimbabwe. The plains support a diversity of wildlife, the massive mahogany and acacia trees providing cover for all the plains species and the 2,000sq km of seasonally flooded river frontage, ox-bow lakes and pools providing permanent water for a large population of wildlife.
Elevated 1483 metres above sea level in the Northeast of Zimbabwe, this metropolitan city in the Mashonaland Region offers a subtropical highland climate, one of the most favourable year round, throughout the world. Perhaps one of the main reasons it’s the most populous city in Zimbabwe. Who doesn’t want to live in the ‘Sunshine City’?
Gonarezhou National Park
At just short of half the size of Hwange National Park, this park of 5053sq km, is found in the south eastern corner of the Masvingo Province. Smaller but certainly not inferior. This park boasts about being further off the normal northern tourist route and of a rugged terrain, therefore offering an untouched wildlife and African bush experience.
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