Resource 1: Great Zimbabwe
Background information / subject knowledge for teacher
Great Zimbabwe, or ‘houses of stone’, is the name given to hundreds of great stone ruins spread out over a 500 sq km (200 sq mi) area within the modern-day country of Zimbabwe, which itself is named after the ruins.
The ruins can be broken down into three distinct architectural groups. They are known as the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the famous Great Enclosure. Over 300 structures have been located so far in the Great Enclosure. The types of stone structures found on the site give an indication of the status of the citizenry. Structures that were more elaborate were built for the kings and situated further away from the centre of the city. It is thought that this was done in order to escape sleeping sickness.
What little evidence exists suggests that Great Zimbabwe also became a centre for trading, with artefacts suggesting that the city formed part of a trade network extending as far as China. Chinese pottery shards, coins from Arabia, glass beads and other non-local items have been excavated at Zimbabwe.
Nobody knows for sure why the site was eventually abandoned. Perhaps it was due to drought, perhaps due to disease or it simply could be that the decline in the gold trade forced the people who inhabited Great Zimbabwe to look elsewhere.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
More information can be found at