Great Zimbabwe: Of Design and Patterns


Well known as the default Zimbabwe pattern, when ever you are asked to put an ethnic/African touch to a design the Chevron pattern will most likely come up in the conversation. It was a dedication to the Kings wives who stayed at the great enclosure It represented fertility in women.

A detail of the Chevron Pattern at Great Zimbabwe ©Baynham Goredema

Only one of the Great Zimbabwe birds, which was found at the Great Enclosure, had the Chevron Pattern. Fertility was a status symbol, having a number of children was prestigious.

East facing Wall of the Great Enclosure

The chevron Pattern is only found on the exterior of the east facing wall of the great Enclosure and you can easily miss this if you are not aware of this fact.

Naletale Ruins showing the different patterns ©Atum Rising

Dentele Pattern
Depicts the succession of Kings one after the other.

Herring Bone Pattern
Represented the idea that the king was the back bone of the society.

Chess Board Pattern
Symbolised interdependence between members of this same society.
Of these patterns only the Chevron was found at Great Zimbabwe, the rest are found at Naletale. It seems all these patterns were never just for aesthetics but were functional in stating facts and telling stories.

Khami ruins – © Paul Hubbard


Naletale ruins are found between Bulawayo and Gweru. They are the most exquisitely decorated. A recent article acknowledging the importance of these ruins. It also states that Naletale was placed on UNESCO’s 2012 World’s Monument Watch list. The style is much more refined as there were built later, the craftsmen had perfected their art the most basic styles of decoration are found on the Hill complex. Nalatale is not even marketed as a destination and many Zimbabweans are not even aware of these ruins.

Other ruins in Zimbabwe include Khami ruins in Bulawayo, Dhlo Dhlo near Bulawayo and Zuva Ruins in Nyanga.

Directional Signage at Great Zimbabwe

Interpretive Signage

The signage at Great Zimbabwe was an improvement since I last came. The signage was mainly directional, but as is the case with many parks in Zimbabwe, they need to adopt interpretive signage at specific points around the park. I guess the reason parks in Zimbabwe would not adopt the idea of interpretive signage is because they feel it will nullify the guided tour aspect. I feel there is room for both to co exist.

Welcome to Great Zimbabwe

The Entrance to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins leaves a lot to be desired for such a prominent heritage site. But this points to the value Zimbabwe places on monuments and art. I saw the same sense of neglect and disinterest at Birchenough Bridge.

Map of Great Zimbabwe

There was also a big map at the main info section. Through interpretive signage more detailed maps of each section would be helpful at each site eg, the Great Enclosure, The Hill complex.