Known to Europeans until recent decades as South Rhodesia, and in the 19th century believed to be the site of King Solomon's mythical gold mines, Zimbabwe is a continental enclave with no outlet to the sea situated in south western Africa, bounded by Mozambique to the east, South Africa and Botswana to the south and Zambia to the north.

In short

Area: 390,757 km² -- Population: about 12 million -- Density:32 people per km² -- Government: Republic -- Capital: Harare -- Language: English, Shona, Ndebele -- Religion: catholic, anglican, animist -- Currency: Zimbabwe Dollar (ZWD) -- Telephone code: +263 -- Time Zone: (UTC +2) -- International car plate: ZW -- Internet suffix: .zw -- Member of: the UNO since -- Useful Links: official website of Zimbabwe Parliament -- International Airports: Harare


Administrative division

Zimbabwe is divided into 8 provinces, which are furtherly subdivided into 59 districts, and two cities having province status : City of Bulawayo, City of Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Masvingo, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands.

The Territory

The territory is a wide plateau almost all covered with tropical savannah, with the Zambezi River to the north marking the border with Zambia, and forming the Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba, while the Limpopo River marks the southern border of the country. The abundance of waters is accompanied by an amazing variety of African wildlife, that find refuge in the many protected areas, of great attraction for safari and adventure tourism.


According to recent archaeological findings, Zimbabwe was already inhabited in the Neolithic Age, and the earliest inhabitants of whom historical records exist spoke a Khoisan language. In the 3rd century AD these ancient inhabitants were supplanted by Bantu settlers coming from the north, who were the ancestors of the Shona group. These people established empires, and built their monuments and fortresses in stone, of which today a number of ruins exist, of great importance for the archaeological study of the whole African continent. In the course of the centuries four empires were founded: Great Zimbabwe (13th-15th century), Torwa (15th-17th century), Mutapa (15th-19th century), Changamire or Rozvi (17th-19th century). Torwa, Mutapa and Changamire all derived from Great Zimbabwe, whose capital was situated near present Masvingo. The main ruins of these civilisations are found at Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Danangombe, Nhandare and Matendere.

The earliest contacts of these empires with other civilisations were trading exchanges, first with the Arab world and later with the Portuguese. In the early 19th century Ndebele populations arrived from southern Africa and established the Ndebele State near Bulawayo, and the Gaza State in the present south-east region, as far as the border with Mozambique. Mzilikazi, the head of the Ndebeles, accepted at his court the British missionary Robert Moffat. In the latter half of the 19th century, European explorers discovered the ancient site of Great Zimbabwe, and believed it was the legendary Ofir where according to the Old Testament King Solomon had his Gold Mines, and the news gave rise to a real gold rush from Europe.

Cecil John Rhodes, supported by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) led a private army of white settlers and occupied the area north of the Limpopo river, giving it the name of South Rhodesia in 1890. In 1891 the British Empire established a Protectorate in present Mashonaland, and in 1897 all rebellions of the local people were suppressed. The BSAC governed until 1923 when a referendum was held to establish a selg-governing status, but under entire control of the white settlers, and later, from 1953 to 1963 Zimbabwe was included in the Rhodesia Federation together with North Rhodesia (present Zambia). After that there were about 15 years of unrest, political strife and nationalist armed struggle to put an end to the white supremacy, until in 1980 Zimbabwe finally obtained political independence, a democratic government and international recognition.

Cities and places of interest

  • The Lake of Kariba, downstream the Victoria Falls, a huge artificial basin created by a dam interrupting the Zambezi in 1958, a project that accompanied the establishment of the Matusadona National Park, which hosted the animals rescued from the submerged territories. Today the Lake is populated of picturesque islets and boat houses.
  • The Gonarezhou National Park, occupying an area of almost 5,200 sq km along the Mozambique border, a sanctuary of elephants, cheetahs and antelopes.
  • The Hwange National Park, south of the Victoria Falls along the Botswana border, extending for over 14,000 sq km, a land almost uninhabited by man, but with a large number of animal species.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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    • The Mana Pools National Park, including four water basins populated of crocodiles and alligators, located where the Zambezi River slows down greatly, forming a myriad ponds and small lakes, extremely rich in wildlife especially in the dry season.
    • Great Zimbabwe, about 250 km Johannesburg, at an altitude of 1100 m above sea level in the Hazare plateau, a stone monument built between 1200 and 1450 AD
    • The Ruins of Khami, which developed in the middle of the 16th century after Great Zimbabwe was abandoned, becoming a trading centre of great importance, also with Europe and the Far East.
    • The Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Waterfalls, a major African site along with Mount Kilimanjaro, at the eastern border with Zambia, with a width of 1,7km and varying in height from 80 to 170 metres, whose mighty roaring sound can be heard already as far as 40 km away; in March and April the mist created by the tiny water drops released into the air by the falls is so thick that it is impossible to see the water, so the best period to visit the Falls is in the dry months from September to November. Around the Falls both upstream and downstream many adventure activities are practised, as bungee jumping, rafting and canoeing, and boat safaris down the Zambezi.
    • The Matobo hills, granite formations inhabited by man since Palaeolithic times, preserving many rock paintings and still today pilgrimage destinations for the Mwari religion. Part of the Hills is included in the Matobo National Park, visited by tourists who love bird-watching, since it is populated by a great many variety of birds, among them the largest world-wide population of black eagles.