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Wonders: City of Great Zimbabwe


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Photo: Great Zimbabwe The Great Zimbabwe is the most famous of a large group of stone-walled enclosures on the Zimbabwean plateau. The modern Zimbabwe nation took its name from this major cultural monument.

In the language of the Shona people of eastern Zimbabwe, the word zimbabwe means "stone building." The highest point of the site is a fortress that has a commanding view of the surrounding grasslands, and can only be approached through a series of narrow defiles. According to scholars, the structure was erected by Shona people over the course of about four hundred years, beginning in the early 11th century.

At its height in the 13th century, Great Zimbabwe's capital was home to as many as 18,000 people. Subsistence to support such population concentrations remained crucial, and it is likely that cattle and agricultural surplus played a highly visible role in the maintenance of power.

The collapse of the Great Zimbabwe occupation is dated to the mid- to late 15th century, when most of the site was abandoned. Reasons posited for Great Zimbabwe's collapse have included the possible exhaustion of local gold, arable land, or water resources, and the disruption of the Indian Ocean trading sphere by the Portuguese. Majestic successor states such as Khami, located farther in the interior, soon sprang up, but none ever achieved the power of Great Zimbabwe, which remained an important religious shrine until the 19th century.

Source: Microsoft Encarta Africana. ©1999 Microsoft Corporation. Used with permission.

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