As we started researching the history of African kingdoms, we found out so much about empires that we didn’t even know existed! Africa was home to many advanced civilizations that existed long before the modern Western world. In fact, some of the architectural accomplishments of these empires were so advanced that people didn’t even believe they were real!
That’s what we discovered as we started learning about the Great Zimbabwe empire. Find out more about this kingdom in our Great Zimbabwe unit study!
Great Zimbabwe Unit Study
Where Was Great Zimbabwe?
Great Zimbabwe was the capital of the Zimbabwe Kingdom in the southern part of Africa. In fact, the capital’s ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country of Zimbabwe. Speaking of Zimbabwe, do you know what that name means?
We didn’t. But we learned that there are two possible meanings for the name: Dzimba-dza-mabwe, which is Karanga for “large houses of stone”, or dzimba-hwe, which is Zezuru for “venerated houses”. The city itself was in existence for about 400 years, from the years 1100 to about 1500 C.E.
How Big was Great Zimbabwe?
One of the most interesting things we learned about Great Zimbabwe is that it was an African metropolis. At its height, the city encompassed 100 to 200 miles and was home to 10,000 to 20,000 people. Since the city’s revenue was based on trading gold, ivory, and cattle, most inhabitants were fairly wealthy.
You can get an idea of its scope by looking at the size of the Great Enclosure, which was the wall that surrounded most of the city:
Image c/o: Jens Klinzing
To see just how large these buildings were, look at the scale of the man in the picture walking inside the city:David Holt London
Great Zimbabwe Architecture
Since Great Zimbabwe was the capital, it had the most magnificent architecture. What was especially fascinating to us was that the builders created the city without using mortar or mud. Instead, they heated the stones to break them into bricks and then placed them atop each other in a way that ensured they would stay up.
The fact that some of these structures are still standing today when they are literally made of stacks of rocks is incredible. In fact, some early historians were so impressed with the design of these buildings that they claimed Africans could not have built the structures and attempted to manufacture a fake history to back up their story. Despicable.
Image c/o: rosshuggettKay Adams
Naturally, we had to try our hand at the architecture of Great Zimbabwe. We broke out our play beach sand and attempted to recreate the Great Enclosure.
It’s harder than it looks. But it helps when you have lots of willing hands.
Not even close. I can’t imagine trying this by stacking enormous stone blocks on top of each other.
Books and Resources about Great Zimbabwe
These affiliate books and resources provide even more information about this incredible empire!
Wikipedia: Great Zimbabwe – Wikipedia’s page about Great Zimbabwe is very extensive, covering the entire dominant period of the Zimbabwe kingdom.
The BBC: The Story of Africa – Nice summary of the Great Zimbabwe capital and the efforts of some historians to deny that the city was of African origin.
UNESCO: Great Zimbabwe National Monument – Beautiful slideshow of pictures of the stone city.
Michigan State University: Exploring Africa – A complete lesson plan about the history of Africa during the Zimbabwe Kingdom
South African History Online: Great Zimbabwe – Basic facts about the Zimbabwe kingdom: trade system, size, and the history of the name.
PBS Nova: Mysteries of Great Zimbabwe – In-depth look at the discoveries made at Great Zimbabwe and the lengths one historian went to in an attempt to give credit for its architecture to non-Africans.
Learn even more about Great Zimbabwe and other African empires in our African Kingdoms Printable Unit Study! Click the image or the link below to grab it from our Store!