On September 5th in 1871, the German explorer Karl Mauch stumbled on a stone wall in the heart of Southern Africa.
Like any worthy representative of nineteenth-century Euro-centrism, the explorer couldn’t bring himself to attribute the ruins to Bantu culture. He wanted to see a lost biblical city of the Queen of Sheba (Ophir), the famous mines of King Solomon.
These immense granite ramparts, surrounded by numerous carved stone buildings adorned with statues are the last vestige of the city of Great Zimbabwe. Back then it was one of the jewels of the Shona nation in the Middle Ages. All the powerful structures, fortifications, religious and residential buildings are of pure African inspiration. Researchers unfortunately have taken their time to return what belongs to the Bantu. Unknown was the splendor of the Monomotapa empire whose name means “lord of the mines”. This ancient empire extended from the Kalahari Desert to the Indian Ocean (present-day Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia) and included a large number of stone sites. Zimbabwe literally means “stone houses” in the Shona language.
In order to avoid confusion, the largest of the sites is called Great-Zimbabwe, which was the area documented by Mauch. At its apogee, the population of Great-Zimbabwe reached 20,000 inhabitants which was a lot at the time. Archaeological excavations have uncovered glass beads and porcelain fragments of Chinese and Persian origin, as well as quantities of artifacts from Kilwa, which demonstrated the importance of trade with the outside world. Elements including shards and ironwork allude to the socioeconomic complexity of the land, as well as its agricultural and pastoral activities. A monumental granite cross, found on a sacred site, reveals that there was also contact with missionaries.
After archaeologists made their discoveries, the ruins were partly sacked by Europeans in search of gold. Today, they are protected and listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. As a tribute to its inheritance, the country abandoned the colonial name (homage to Cecil John Rhodes) in 1980, to simply be called Zimbabwe.