Matobo Hills: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

The geographical and spiritual landscapes of Matobo Hills have been carved over thousands of years, myth and legend held between boulder and crevice. The area is encased in culture and history, from the rise and fall of Shona dynasties, the courage of Ndebele armies, to pioneers traversing the land. Both a place of worship and war, Matobo Hills and its surrounds are revered, stories scribed upon cave walls gifting us an insight to its past.

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Dramatic, tumbled boulders dominate the landscape, mysterious balancing acts of geography. The entire area is shrouded in mystery; hidden shrines, memorials and sacred burial spots scattered throughout. Ceremonial sights remain to be respected, adhering to the rule of not pointing in their direction to avoid bad luck. Such beliefs which have survived time are a testament to the power of Matobo Hills; the rituals, traditions and cultural conviction remain strong in place and people.

Evidence of human habitation is exhibited in Iron Age and Stone Age deposits within rock shelters, as well as in the multitude of rock art in various caves throughout the area. It in fact holds one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world, dating back 13, 000 years. Cave walls are adorned with detailed as well as abstract art, giving clear insight as well as inciting interpretation of past events. With the first settlers dating back around 100 000 years, its cultural landscape is as fascinating as its geographical, essentially interwoven into one another, almost to the point of symbiosis. 

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It’s collection of rock art as well as geological formations secured it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its educational, scientific and cultural history deems it to be a landmark of universal significance. According to UNESCO, the following attributes established its heritage status:

Criterion (iii): The Matobo Hills have one of the highest concentrations of rock art in southern Africa. The rich evidence from archaeology and from the rock paintings at Matobo provide a very full picture of the lives of foraging societies in the Stone Age and the way agricultural societies came to replace them. 

Criterion (v): The interaction between communities and the landscape, manifested in the rock art and also in the long-standing religious traditions still associated with the rocks, are community responses to a landscape. 

Criterion (vi): The Mwari religion, centred on Matobo, which may date back to the Iron Age, is the most powerful oracular tradition in southern Africa.”

The granite dominated environment is noticeably unique. Vegetation ranges from savannah to rock domes to dense woodland. An exploration of its landscapes calls for curiosity and awareness, listening and learning about its species, plant and animal variety. There is a healthy predator population, specifically leopard, living in the mosaiced habitat of the park. A stay at Hideaways Shashani Matobo Hills provides you with the opportunity to embark on an expedition of its grounds with a professional guide, leading you through the paths of history. Along these paths you may also be lucky enough to encounter the elusive and endangered rhino; a safari seeker’s dream.

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Matobo Hills is truly like no other African destination. A peek into the past while appreciating the present satiates your cultural curiosity as well as your wildlife cravings. Contact us to walk in the footsteps of giants, read the tales of ancient rock art and feast your eyes upon granite formations; landscapes which represent the cultural foundations of Zimbabwe.