The Wonders of Southern Africa’s Ancient Kingdoms

Palace ruins are a heritage that can be shared by all with considerable pride in the achievements of our African ancestors, writes Mike Main, management consultant, freelance writer and lay archaeologist who has spent over 40 years exploring Botswana and its neighbours. Mike is also the co-author of ­Palaces of Stone, along with Thomas Huffman.



“WHY BOTHER? I mean, once you’ve seen the palace at Great Zimbabwe, you’ve seen it all, right?


No! That’s not entirely true: after you’ve see the magnificent remains near Masvingo, there are 550 more palaces still to view! Of course, they are not all as spectacular – though many of them do actually surpass the famous ruins in splendour. Palaces of Stone is all about an amazing story of kingdoms past that has for too long remained untold. This book hopes to set this right.


All these ruins – palaces, as we call them – are the residences of former kings, paramount chiefs, chiefs or headmen who collectively helped successive dynasties manage and rule a series of states that, over a period of more than 600 years embraced much of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.


Some palaces, like Khami near Bulawayo, Nalatale and Zinjanja in the Zimbabwe Midlands, and the Majandes and Sampowane in Botswana are spectacularly ornate. Others are little more than a few metres of stone walling but all, without exception, declare to passers-by that ‘this is the residence of a representative of the king himself – beware, show respect’. In addition to commanding authority and respect, these many ruins also eloquently speak of the remarkable kingdoms that successively followed one another in central southern Africa.


Rooted in a series of quite astonishing innovations that appeared within the space of just half a century at the World Heritage Site of Mapungubwe in South Africa, Zimbabwe Culture – characterised by sacred leadership and class distinction – flourished at Great Zimbabwe itself in about AD 1300.

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