World Heritage is the designation for places on earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. Five sites in Zimbabwe are included in this list. The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the continent of Africa, bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. The country boasts several major tourist attractions including wildlife conservation sites; the largest sheet of falling water in the world; unusual geological formations and a number of ancient ruined cities unusual in the rest of Africa. There are four places in the country that are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
1. Great Zimbabwe
The country of Zimbabwe was named after the hundreds of stone ruins spread across the high plateau region of Africa called Zimbabwe. The Great Zimbabwe or “stone buildings” is set apart from the hundreds of small ruins. It’s the name given to the 7.22 sq km (2.78 sq mi) buildings near the town of Masvingo.
In the Shona dialect, the name Zimbabwe is translated in different ways including: “venerated houses,” “the great big house or big house built of stone builders,” “ritual seat of a king,” or “home or grave of the chief.”
Started during the 11th century by the Bantu-speaking ancestors of the Shona people, Great Zimbabwe was built for more than 300 years. The ruins are some of the oldest and largest structures in Southern Africa. They are known as the Hill Complex (used as a temple), the Valley Complex (for the citizens) and the famous Great Enclosure (2nd picture here) with more than 300 structures were used by the king.
During the Medieval period, the Great Zimbabwe was one of the most significant civilizations in the world. Evidence shows that the settlement was an important trading and political center but nobody knows why the site was eventually abandoned.
Today, the site is but a shell of what it once was, as much of its wealth was vandalized through the centuries by European explorers, treasure hunters, souvenirs seekers and plunderers such as Richard Hall and Ian Smith who both falsified Great Zimbabwe’s origin. Artifacts were either destroyed or taken away and sent to various museums throughout Europe, America and South Africa. Additional damage to the ruins still continues to this day as tourists climb the walls for thrills and to find souvenirs.
The stone ruins have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
2. Mana Pools
Mana Pools is one of Zimbabwe’s most popular parks. It is a 2,500 sq km (965 sq mi) remote region in the lower Zambezi River where the flood plain turns into a broad expanse of lakes after the rainy season. When the lakes slowly dry up, the region attracts the country’s biggest concentration of hippopotamuses, crocodiles, elephants and buffalos in search for water, making it one of Africa’s top game-viewing sites.
In Shona dialect, the word “mana” means “four,” in reference to the four large permanent pools which are remnant ox-bow lakes that the Zambezi River carved out thousands of years ago. Extending 6 km (3.7 mi) in a west-east direction is the largest of the four called “Long Pool,” a favorite site of the region’s biggest animals.
On the old river terraces, tourists are allowed to walk alone giving them an opportunity to get a glimpse of Africa’s dangerous wildlife such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalos, impalas and baboons. This conservation area is also home to over 350 species of birds and aquatic wildlife.
Mana Pools is part of the 10,500 sq km (4,054 sq mi) Parks and Wildlife Estate without physical boundaries, giving the animals freedom to move throughout the area—even northward across the Zambezi River into Zambia.
3. Khami Ruins
Another important archeological site in Zimbabwe is the Khami, a ruined city that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986 together with Great Zimbabwe. The settlement appears to have been founded at the time the Great Zimbabwe was about to collapse. Khami became the capital of the Torwa Dynasty between 15th and 17th centuries.
The ruins include a Hill Complex which served as the royal enclosure, stone walls and hut platforms. Other interesting sites include: the Vlei platforms, believed to have served as cattle kraals; a resonant stone called the mujejeje, which rings like a bell when struck, and a beautifully decorated 6 m high and 60 m long retaining wall of the Precipice platform which bears a checkered board design.
The discovery of items from Europe and China shows that for a long period of time, Khami was a major trade center just like Great Zimbabwe.
4. Matobo Hills
Matobo National Park is probably Zimbabwe’s top tourist attraction. The park forms the core of the Matobo or Matopos Hills, an area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys where erosion is tearing the very core of the country and as the heart-rock is destroyed, a sea of beautiful balancing rock formations are exposed.
The Hills also feature an outstanding collection of rock paintings left by the San Bushmen about 2,000 years ago. Clay ovens and other historic artifacts have also been found in the many crevices and caves, some dating as far back as the Pre-Middle Stone Age.
The Matobo Hills were inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2003.
5. Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Travel Wonders of the World. Known in Zambia as Mosi-ao Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) the waterfalls plunges down a series of basalt gorges from the Zambezi River on the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. With a width of 1,708 m (5,600 ft), the falls are said to be the largest sheet of falling water in the world. The World Heritage List added the falls in 1989 recognizing both names.