Chisvingo Ruins

Chisvingo Ruins are located in the Masembura Communal Lands in Mashonaland. The name comes from the Shona Rusvingo; stone wall, or fortification. Little excavation work has been carried out; but the nearby Nhunguza Ruin, 1.5 kilometres to the northeast was excavated by Peter Garlake in 1972 and dated to the sixteenth Century. Much of the notes below relate to Nhunguza Ruins below as Chisvingo and Nhunguza ruins are very similar in their style and type of dry-stone walling and Peter Garlake classifies them both as Zimbabwe-type ruins.


Chisvingo Ruin comprises a single curved enclosure shaped somewhat like an open horseshoe. The dry-stone walling encloses the northern, eastern and southern sides leaving the east side open to the extent of 30 metres. The diameter of the ruin is about 35 metres and the enclosure area would originally have been surrounded by pole and dhaka huts, although no trace of these remains. Like Nhunguza, Chisvingo is not on an easily defended site, but all the surrounding hilltops are visible on every side, and it is in attractive brachystegia woodland and occupies a level saddle between granite kopjes with extensive views. In common with all these ruins, land suitable for grazing and agriculture surrounds the site. The close fitting, dressed and coursed granite walls have a chevron and herringbone pattern, and Garlake thinks they might have once had a dentelle frieze. Later alterations include the blocking of a rounded entrance.

Both these ruins and others were described by early hunters and explorers. The archaeologist J.T. Bent positions Chisvingo Ruin accurately, but did not visit, and called it Chipadzi’s Ruin as it is near the kraal of this name. Chisvingo Ruins is 24 kilometres down the Pote River from the Yellow Jacket Ruins. The Mazowe River joins the Pote River just above Shamva; and the area has many goldfields with numerous “ancient workings” and written accounts by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century of alluvial gold mining. Garlake makes the point that besides these ruins, there are a number of sixteenth century Portuguese trading posts at Dambarare, Matafuna, Bocuto, Massapa and Luanze easily accessible from the Mazowe River with their base at Tete on the Zambezi River

Why Visit

Although these dry-stone monuments are very small, they are significant in that the archaeological evidence revealed by Peter Garlake seems to indicate a single, continuous, evolving occupation of Great Zimbabwe by one cultural group between the early thirteenth and mid-fifteenth centuries, with an extension of political power into northern Mashonaland during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with which Chisvingo, Nhunguza and Ruanga are associated. In the mid-fifteenth century great Zimbabwe was abandoned with a decline in dry-stone building. At the same time the Mwene Mutapa Kingdom rose in the extreme north of Mashonaland, where Chisvingo Ruins are located, and the Torwa Empire in the south west around Khame, Naletale, Danan’ombe and Zinjanja.

The close proximity of Chisvingo, Nhunguza and Yellow Jacket Ruins seems to indicate the three ruins may have been built and occupied by the same ruling group. They may have been minor provincial Chiefs as the ruins are not large and only a few exotic items, comprising glass beads, were excavated.

Peter Garlake speculates that the shallowness of the deposits, the uniform stratigraphy, and the absence of evidence that the huts were altered, or rebuilt, may indicate they were only occupied for a short period, perhaps a single generation.

Although Chisvingo Ruins cannot be described as spectacular; they are located in a very attractive area of brachystegia woodland, with easy access on tarred road from Harare and make a good walk for visitors who park on the tar road. Zimbabwe Monuments, Galleries And Museums