The Great Zimbabwe National Monument and Ancient Temples of Nara
In this article, I will be reviewing two UNESCO World Heritage sites found in the African Continent, The Great Zimbabwe National Monument and The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, by listing out their histories, architectural and archaeological significance and their state today, while adding any tidbits of trivia I found interesting while researching on the topics.
The Great Zimbabwe National Monument
The common point between these four images is the National Emblem of Zimbabwe, the fabled Zimbabwe bird, often thought to be a depiction of the Bateleur Eagle or the African Fish Eagle. It was believed by the residents of the empire that these birds were divine messengers, created to take the human message to the Gods. The Great Zimbabwe National Monument where these carved soapstone birds were originally found, has given its name to the country Zimbabwe we know today, formerly known as Rhodesia. The birds stood 16 inches tall and probably signified royal presence inside the Great Zimbabwe structure, tagged by UNESCO today as being a monument with cultural importance. Though colonial masters led to the displacement of these structures, it is good to know that they have been returned by various governments of the world today to the country of their origin.
Zimbabwe itself means, ‘big houses of stone’ and automatically points to possibly its greatest monument, The Great Zimbabwe National Monument. The word ‘Great’ was added to distinguish the 722 hectares which constitute this structure from 200 such similar sites in Southern Africa, referred to as ‘zimbabwes’ only. The monument itself dates back to somewhere between the 11th and 14th centuries, though it took UNESCO as late as 1986 to include it in its World Heritage sites list. Located 30 kilometers away from the Zimbabwean town of Masvingo, this ancient city probably served as capital for the ancient Shoma Empire, prospering due to the booming trade at the time. Great Zimbabwe itself can be divided into three architectural areas namely The Hill Complex, Valley Ruins and the Great Enclosure. The Great Enclosure certifies its naming by being the largest single pre-colonial structure in Africa, south of the Sahara. With an outer wall of 250 metres and maximum height of 11 metres, this circular structure was made completely of cut granite stones, and structured in curves. The Hill Complex was probably the designated royal area, and forms a huge granite mass where traces of numerous inhabitants have been found. This is also where the sculptures of the Zimbabwe birds were found, further affirming the conclusion that it was the royal abode. The Valley Ruins served as living areas for the 18000 strong which lived here at some point, and date all the way to the 19th century, the improvement in architectural techniques being proof.
In the next part of this article, I will look at the Historical Monuments of Ancient Nara which pre-dates to around a thousand years back!
The image above shows the Yakushi-ji Buddhist temple, one of the 8 designated Heritage sites present in Nara, the old Japanese capital. This temple along with 5 other temples, a Shinto Shrine and a primeval forest were included by the UNESCO in their World Heritage site list in 1998, in Kyoto. Their inclusion comes in not only due to their individual architectural brilliance, centuries ahead of their time, but also due to the wonderful state of the city of Nara, Japanese capital from 710-784 AD. This period was so significant in Japanese history that it lent its name to the Nara Period.
The lasting remains of that grandiose period are the monuments captured are shown.
Heijokyo-ato was the location of the Imperial Palace in the Nara era until it was abandoned for modern day Kyoto in 794 AD. Serving as the residence of the Emperor and probably home to government offices too, it was turned over as farmland when the capital was changed. However much before that happened, many famous temples and shrines were erected in the area. I will list out the important ones below, with interesting information about each of them.
1. Todai-ji temple: One of the most important Buddhist temples in Nara. It is home to the Great Buddha Hall, the world’s largest wooden building. Located within the Hall is the Great Buddha of Nara, the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. The Hall itself was burned down twice, but was rebuilt in 1709, and is just 70% of its predecessor. The statue was also partially damaged by natural disasters, and various parts of the statue have been recast. Given below is a picture of the Great Buddha statue.
2. Kofuku-ji Temple: Established by the founder of the Fujiawara clan, one of the most important families in Japan’s history. Many of the buildings of Kofuku-ji Temple are today designated as National Treasures of Japan. These include the East Golden Hall, or Tokondo, the five-storey pagoda, the three-storey pagoda, and the North Octagonal Hall, called Hokuendo. The South Octagonal Hall- Nanendo, is listed as an Important Cultural Property.
3. Kasuga Grand Shrine: A very important Shinto shrine, it is popularly known and visited due to its thousands of lanterns, of both stone and bronze leading up to the building. The Kasuga Grand Shrine was founded in the early part of the Heian period. In AD 965 it was one of the original 16 Shinto shrines were Imperial messengers had to send reports of important events to its resident guardian spirit, kami.
4. Horyu-ji Temple- With a name meaning ‘Learning Temple of the Flourishing Law’, this temple is both a seminary and a monastery. The temple is known for having it its complex, one of the oldest existing wooden buildings in it and traces its founding by Prince Shotoku in AD 607, with the completion of the first temple building, at that time known as Ikaruga-dera.
5. Toshodai-ji Temple- It was found in 759 AD, by a blind Chinese sage and priest called Ganjnim. It is home to the Classical Golden Hall, its main hall and is considered a National Treasure of Japan.
As far as possible, the images used have been taken out of the public domain. However, due to lack of choice, certain images out of this domain have been used. Required credits have been given below.
1. Many of the pictures from Nara have been sourced from the UNESCO website. The same goes for the Great Zimbabwe Monument. The website gojapango.com is also to be credited for a picture of the Toshodai-ji temple.
2. The CNN site mentioned above was also used for a couple of pictures of the Great Zimbabwe Monument.
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