Stretched across a tree-peppered expanse in southern Africa
lies the magnificent ruins of Great Zimbabwe,
a medieval stone city of astounding wealth and prestige.
Located in the present-day country of Zimbabwe,
it’s the sight of the largest known settlement ruins in Sub-Saharan Africa,
second on the continent only to the pyramids of Egypt.
But the history of this city is shrouded in controversy,
defined by decades of dispute about who built it and why.
Its name comes from the Shona word madzimbabwe,
meaning big house of stone
for its unscalable stone walls that reach heights of nearly ten meters
and run for a length of about 250 meters.
For its grandeur and historical significance,
it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
Back in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was a thriving city.
Spread across nearly eight square-kilometers,
Great Zimbabwe was defined by three main areas:
the Hill Complex, where the king lived;
the Great Enclosure, reserved for members of the royal family;
and the Valley Complex, where regular citizens lived.
Rulers were both powerful economic and religious leaders for the region.
At its highest point,
the city had a bustling urban population of 18,000 people
and was one of the major African trade centers at the time.
What enabled this growth was Great Zimbabwe’s influential role
in an intercontinental trade network.
Connected to several key city-states along the East African Swahili Coast,
it was part of the larger Indian Ocean trade routes.
The city generated its riches by controlling the sources and trade
of the most prized items:
With this mercantile power, it was able to extend its sphere of influence
fostering a strong Arab and Indian trader presence throughout its zenith.
Archaeologists have since pieced together the details of this history
through artifacts discovered on site.
There were pottery shards and glassworks from Asia,
as well as coins minted in the coastal trading city of Kilwa Kisiwani
over 1,500 miles away.
They also found soapstone bird figures,
which are thought to represent each of the city’s rulers,
and young calf bones, only unearthed near the royal residence,
show how the diet of the elite differed from the general population.
These clues have also led to theories about the city’s decline.
By the mid-15th century,
the buildings at Great Zimbabwe were almost all that remained.
Archaeological evidence points to overcrowding
and sanitation issues as the cause,
compounded by soil depletion triggered by overuse.
最终 随着庄稼枯萎 城市的环境恶化
Eventually, as crops withered and conditions in the city worsened,
the population of Great Zimbabwe is thought to have dispersed
and formed the nearby Mutapa and Torwa states.
Centuries later, a new phase of Great Zimbabwe’s influence
began to play out in the political realm
as people debated who had built the famous city of stone.
During the European colonization of Africa,
racist colonial officials claimed the ruins couldn’t be of African origin.
So, without a detailed written record on hand,
they instead relied on myths to explain the magnificence of Great Zimbabwe.
Some claimed it proved the Bible story of the Queen of Sheba
who lived in a city of riches.
Others argued it was built by the Ancient Greeks.
然后 20世纪早期 在遗址大量的挖掘后
Then, in the early 20th century after extensive excavation at the site,
the archaeologist David Randall-MacIver
presented clear evidence that Great Zimbabwe
was built by indigenous peoples.
Yet, at the time, the country’s white minority colonial government
sought to discredit this theory because it challenged the legitimacy of their rule.
In fact, the government actively encouraged historians
to produce accounts that disputed the city’s African origins.
然而 随着时间的推移 越来越多的证据表明
Over time, however, an overwhelming body of evidence mounted,
identifying Great Zimbabwe as an African city built by Africans.
During the 1960s and 70s,
Great Zimbabwe became an important symbol for the African Nationalist movement
that was spreading across the continent.
Today, the ruins at Great Zimbabwe,
alluded to on the Zimbabwean flag by a soapstone bird,
still stand as a source of national pride and cultural value.