Khami World Heritage Site, formerly known as Khami Ruins, is an extensive complex of stonewalled sites that lies just west of Bulawayo.
The southern western portion of the Zimbabwe, north-eastern Botswana and northern South Africa were once controlled by one of the early Shona States, known as the Torwa State.
This state dominated the area from the 10th-19th Centuries AD. The settlement at Khami was the capital from the 15th-17th Century before it was abandoned for sites to the northeast around the modern site of Gweru.
Khami’s significance in the history of the area was fully recognised when it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. A small site museum provides useful background information to the site itself.
The area around Khami has had a long history of human occupation. Large pear-shaped tools from the Early Stone Age can be found, but more common are the smaller tools left behind by Middle Stone Age as well as the arrow tips left from the Late Stone Age.
About 2000 years ago a new way of life emerged with semi-permanent settlements based around farming.
From AD1000-1300 there was the emergence of some of the key institutions of state: kingship, urban settlement, craft specialisation and centralised control over resources and trade.
During the period of AD 1300-1500 at Great Zimbabwe the art of dry stonewalling was mastered and the leaders were considered to have been extremely powerful and ruling over considerable distances.
Khami rose into significance from AD1450-1683 and its influence extended deep into the Kalahari of Botswana. Khami’s highly decorated stonewall structures are modified from those at Great Zimbabwe and are rather terraced hill faces forming an extensive complex of stonewalled platforms.
Torwa wealth in cattle and their success in regional and international trade were the envy of others. This ultimately led to their invasion by the Rozwi sometime before 1683.
They did not however dismantle the settlement but instead built on it, in some cases building even grander settlements.
In the 1830’s successive invasions of groups fleeing the Military campaigns of Mfecane in South Africa brought the Rozwi to a close.
The migrant Ndebele absorbed the local people and a new way of life became dominate; the art of dry stonewalling was lost and former settlements were abandoned and left to decay.
Although no longer an important social statement of power, Khami still remains an important spiritual site.
The stonewalls were not for defence but are rather symbols of prestige, wealth and power.
The walls are not bonded and the individual blocks are balanced on each other without cement. The stones were quarried from the local granite.
Natural exfoliated sheets were easily peeled and using fire to heat the rock followed by rapid cooling would also accelerate this process.
The blocks were then shaped by means of cobble hammers to create standardised small stone “bricks”.
These were positioned by craftsman to create a neat outer layer. Coarser chucks of rock and other debris were used behind these facades as fill.
Khami is dominated by a series of terraced stone ruins, often highly decorated.
The largest comprises of three, tiered platforms that was the home of the King and his family. The imposing front façade marked the main entrance.
Visitors are able to wander around the site on several paths taking in the site’s unique cultural and natural heritage.
The main platform is reached by bearing left at the game board by the museum walking along the fence and following the path.
You will arrive at the impressive decorated tiers of the main platform which mark the front of the royal residence.
The open area in the front could have been used as a Royal Court. As you go up the main passageway there is a small alcove on your right which could have been for the guards.
Portions of this passage, if not all, were once roofed as evidenced by the wooden mopane posts.
At the top of the platform are the most spectacular views of the area.
On the uppermost platform are the remains of at least seven circular houses one of which would have housed the Mambo.
On the left of the path to the main passageway to the hill complex is a path that has the remains of several smaller platforms, one of which is the Cross Platform.
The platform has evidence of at least three large Dhaka houses.
It is, however, best known for the Dominican Cross made from loose blocks of granite, the origin of which is debated.
Heading east from the museum you cross the open area used for picnics. Immediately behind the public toilets and on the low rise in front of you there is a small ruined complex, the Vlei Platform.
Beyond the small decorated retaining wall are two Dhaka houses while further back are two freestanding stonewalled enclosures.
As you follow the path along the banks of the Khami river you will soon see the dam wall.
Walk away from the main concrete wall towards the water’s edge there is a narrow path leading to the Precipice Platform.
This is the largest of the stone platforms and was built on a low ridge next to the river. The long, check-decorated wall is the longest of this type known in Zimbabwe.
Further along the above-mentioned path you suddenly come to the Passage Platform.
This structure consists of two adjoining semi-circular platforms accessed by a narrow central passageway.
A large Dhaka or daga house, grain bin foundation, and animal enclosure were found on this platform which suggests a residential use.
This large platform visible on the road into Khami has a well-built retaining wall, traces of houses on the upper surface, and a small livestock enclosure.
Khami lies beyond the western boundary of the City of Bulawayo, 22 Km from the city centre.
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