Great Zimbabwe is a ruined city in the southeastern hills of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe and the town of Masvingo home of a lost ancient civilization. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country's Late Iron Age. Construction on the monument by ancestors of the Shona people began in the 11th century and continued until the 15th century, spanning an area of 722 hectares (1,780 acres) which, at its peak, could have housed up to 18,000 people. It is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Great Zimbabwe served as a royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch and would have been used as the seat of political power. One of its most prominent features were the walls, some of which were over five metres high and which were constructed without mortar. Eventually the city was abandoned and fell into ruin.
The earliest known written mention of the ruins was in 1531 by Vicente Pegado, captain of the Portuguese garrison of Sofala, who recorded it as Symbaoe. The first visits by Europeans were in the late 19th century, with investigations of the site starting in 1871. Later, studies of the monument were controversial in the archaeological world, with political pressure being put upon archaeologists by the government of Rhodesia to deny its construction by native African people. Great Zimbabwe has since been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government, and the modern independent state was named for it. The word "Great" distinguishes the site from the many hundreds of small ruins, now known as 'zimbabwes', spread across the Zimbabwe Highveld. There are such sites in southern Africa, such as Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manyikeni in Mozambique, with monumental, mortarless walls; Great Zimbabwe is the largest.