The ruins are attributed to the Kalanga Torwa State and are thought to date from the seventeenth century. The primary monument at the site is a colossal wall constructed from stone masonry. It is highly decorated, featuring all of the designs of the Zimbabwe architectural tradition: chevrons, herringbone, chequers, cords, and ironstone coloured bands. The original wall was topped by plinths. The complex also features the remains of the principal hut. It is assumed that this was the residence of the Torwa king. The site was damaged by early treasure hunters seeking gold, but remains one of the best-preserved and most impressive ancient monuments in Zimbabwe.
Following the decline of Great Zimbabwe in the 1480’s the Torwa State (Torwa means “strangers” according to Portuguese documents) rose to prominence and the building of Khame commenced in the late fifteenth century and Danan’ombe in the sixteenth century, before the Torwa rulers moved their capital to Naletale in the seventeenth century. All these places have the same architectural style of creating terraces within surrounding walls, always built in tiers which needed to be level in order to support the wall decoration (Type 4 platform complexes according to Roger Summers’ classification) and this Torwa State flourished between 1450 AD and 1693 AD when their wealth in cattle led to envy and they were invaded by the Rozvi, a powerful militaristic grouping that came from northeastern Zimbabwe and conquered and assimilated them. The Rozvi used Naletale as a settlement, but their economy went into a gradual decline in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as their agriculture waned. Additionally, civil wars at home and between the tributary kingdoms weakened gold production and the once thriving long-distance trade until the Nguni took over in the 1830’s during the Mfecane and the Ndebele came to dominate this part of Zimbabwe.
The beautiful little ruin of Naletale commands a fine view of the country and is probably the most architecturally satisfying of all the Zimbabwe ruins. The beauty of the site is enhanced by the strange shaped cabbage trees (Cussonia sp) locally named mufenge and the aloes (Aloe chabaudii and Aloe excelsa) which grow out of the walls. The views widen as the visitor ascends the large rounded granite kopje and on a clear day Danan’ombe is visible 22 Kilometres to the southwest. Naletale has undoubtedly the most magnificent decorated walls amongst the 300 dry-stone walled monuments to be found throughout Zimbabwe and the only ruin to have all types of patterning highlighted as banded iron-stone decorations. Danan’ombe Monument, a few kilometres away, was once the capital of the Torwa State, often called Butua in early sixteenth Century maps and the central hut at Naletale in the 1550’s may well have been the home of a sub-chief ruled by the King at Danan’ombe before it came to prominence in 1680.