Khami, a settlement founded in the mid-15th century, became the capital city of Great Zimbabwe in the mid-16th century and thus became the center of the kingdom’s political and economic power. Archaeological investigations at the site have revealed interesting finds indicating the importance of the city on international trade routes in Africa, Asia, and Europe. In the 17th century, the area was invaded and the settlement fell into decline. In recognition of its cultural value, Khami was designated a National Monument in 1937. During the 1940s, conservation efforts improved stabilization of the walls, but since then the cement used has caused other conservation problems. In addition, the site has suffered environmental damage typical of many archaeological sites: water infiltration, erosion from exposure to wind-borne sand, and animal and plant infestation. For these reasons, Khami was on the 1996 and 2000 Watch lists.
1996 and 2000 World Monuments Watch
After its inclusion on the Watch, WMF, with funding from American Express, assisted in conservation work at the site. Condition surveys were conducted and a monitoring program was established to track changes in environmental conditions throughout the year. Fencing and improved visitor facilities were added to present the site more effectively and protect the fragile materials from further damage. A management plan was created to provide guidelines for the conservation of stone walls. A team of volunteers from local universities carried out remedial work at the site and participated in the conservation program. Vegetation was removed and additional land was acquired by the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe to act as a protective buffer for the site. To improve tourism management at the site, tour guides were employed to provide interpretation for visitors.
Khami National Monument is most significant for its retaining walls which are very early examples of their type in the former capital and the surrounding area. Despite the threat of collapse due to the effects of an adjacent man-made dam, Khami boasts one of the longest decorated walls in the entire region. Several earthen houses are still evident upon the rocky hills of the settlement. The site has become a popular destination for local and international visitors, as well as a picnic spot for residents of Bulawayo.