The name Zimbabwe comes from Shona, the language of the Mashona people meaning ‘stone houses.’ It is applied to any of the 200 stone ruins scattered throughout southern Rhodesia. The largest of these is known as Great Zimbabwe, located at the head of the valley of the Mtilikwe River, a beautiful and magnificent setting.
It covers 60 acres and includes three separate buildings built of granite stones. First there is a series of high walls, labyrinthine passages, steps and corridors, now known as the Acropolis. Second is a large elliptical enclosure, known as the Temple. It is more than 100 meters long and 70 meters wide. In between them is the ruins of smaller buildings known as the Valley Ruins.
Some have thought that these ruins were not African in nature but were the remains of King Solomon’s mines. Early Europeans searched the area for the long lost mines, but none has been discovered. The coast, in ancient times was known as a center for trade in ivory, leopard skins, iron, elephants and gold. The natives from the interior traded this for porcelain, tools, axes and other metal goods.
Today it is thought that an Ancient African empire existed here, and that the ruler hid his harem and lifestyle behind the great walls. The Arab traders of the Middle Ages knew of the empire of Zimbabwe and communicated this to the Europeans. Subsequent archeological research has dated the ruins to between 900 AD and 1400 AD when it was part of a trading network that existed along the African coast with Arab maritime merchants.