2016 World Monuments Watch
The ruins of the city of Great Zimbabwe, the monumental capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, are one of the most emblematic places of the world’s architectural heritage. Today a national monument and a World Heritage Site, Great Zimbabwe encompasses extensive areas of archaeological remains, including the Hill Ruins, a granite acropolis that was occupied for centuries; the iconic Great Enclosure, the largest ancient structure to be built in sub-Saharan Africa; and the Valley Ruins, which comprise a series of residential ensembles that were occupied more recently in the site’s history. At the peak of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the fourteenth century, the city was home to a population of more than 10,000. After the fifteenth century, the city was gradually abandoned and fell into ruin. Today’s archaeological landscape is a site of great significance for the modern nation of Zimbabwe, as a national symbol and a link with its pre-colonial past. It also holds great significance for local communities of the Charumbira, Mugabe, Murinye, and Nemanwa clans, whose lineage is intertwined with the history of the site.
Preserving Great Zimbabwe for enjoyment by future generations is a complex challenge, as is the case with many of the great ruined cities of the world. A long-standing threat to the preservation of the site has been the uncontrolled growth of vegetation. The spread of lantana, an invasive flowering shrub that was introduced to Zimbabwe by Europeans in the early twentieth century, has long vexed the managers of the site. The growth of vegetation threatens the stability of the dry stone walls, and yet removal of vegetation is often a drastic intervention that can further weaken these historic structures. Besides vegetation, the site faces additional risks such as the threat of veld fires, an issue of growing concern that endangers the livelihood of many in the country.
The 2016 World Monuments Watch supports the efforts of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe to implement a plan that will turn Great Zimbabwe into a center of excellence in archaeological site management. Mapping the various species of vegetation in the area, including lantana, and developing strategies for their control that are informed by international experience and involve local communities will help reveal the aesthetic value of the monument and contribute to its sustained enjoyment.
Watch Day, a two-day awareness raising campaign in March 2017 that consisted of group discussions and workshops, culminated with a group march to Great Zimbabwe to promote the need for cooperation among the different stakeholders in the protection and preservation of the site. Along the way, experts demonstrated the proper methods of removing and disposing of the invasive plants that threaten to overrun the fragile monuments.
Since the Watch
The site received an award from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation in 2018. With this support, WMF started a project in collaboration with the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe to improve methods of controlling the pervasive growth of lantana that is causing serious structural problems to the dry-stone structures, and to implement a monitoring system to measure movement in the most vulnerable wall sections. The ongoing project will also include a training program for dry-stone conservation; the methods developed in the program will be implemented at Zinjanja, another important site in Zimbabwe.
Last udpated: January 2021.