Lost cities #9: rac...
 

Lost cities #9: racism and ruins – the plundering of Great Zimbabwe | Cities | The Guardian  

 
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https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/18/great-zimbabwe-medieval-lost-city-racism-ruins-plundering

In the early 16th century, rumours of a mysterious fortress with gargantuan walls, abandoned in the African jungle, spread around Europe. Surrounded by goldmines and sitting on a 900-metre-high hill, the city was thought to represent the summit of a unique African civilisation which had traded with distant Asian countries, including China and Persia.

A Portuguese sea captain, Viçente Pegado, was one of the first foreigners to encounter the site, in 1531. He wrote: “Among the goldmines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers fortress built of stones of marvellous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them … This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it in the fashioning of stone and the absence of mortar, and one of them is a tower more than 12 fathoms high.”

Great Zimbabwe was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries over 722 hectares in the southern part of modern Zimbabwe. The whole site is weaved with a centuries-old drainage system which still works, funnelling water outside the houses and enclosures down into the valleys.

At its peak, an estimated 18,000 people lived in the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Only 200 to 300 members of the elite classes are thought to have actually stayed inside its massive stone buildings, watched over at night by guards standing on the walls, while the majority lived some distance away.

Today, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are a shell of the abandoned city that Captain Pegado came across – due in no small part to the frenzied plundering of the site at the turn of the 20th century by European treasure-hunters, in search of artefacts that were eventually sent to museums throughout Europe, America and South Africa.

It was said that Great Zimbabwe was an African replica of the Queen of Sheba’s palace in Jerusalem. The idea was promoted by the German explorer Karl Mauch, who visited in 1871 and refused to believe that indigenous Africans could have built such an extensive network of monuments.

“I do not think that I am far wrong if I suppose that the ruin on the hill is a copy of Solomon’s Temple on Mount Moriah,” Mauch declared, “and the building in the plain a copy of the palace where the Queen of Sheba lived during her visit to Solomon.” He further stated that only a “civilised nation must once have lived there” – his racist implication unmistakeable.

Other European writers, also believing that Africans did not have the capacity to build anything of the significance of Great Zimbabwe, suggested it was built by Portuguese travellers, Arabs, Chinese or Persians. Another theory was that the site could have been the work of a southern African tribe of ancient Jewish heritage, the Lemba.....

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/18/great-zimbabwe-medieval-lost-city-racism-ruins-plundering

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Posted : 08/25/2016 8:27 pm

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