Khami Ruins National Monument comprises the archaeological site of the second largest stone-built monument in Zimbabwe.
The dry-stone structures were enhanced by decorative friezes. It was created during the Torwa dynasty and became the region’s next capital after the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe. Imported goods like Ming porcelain and Spanish silverware were found, which hint at a wide range of trading contacts.
Community Perspective: An easy site to visit with your own transport from the city of Bulawayo, but it cannot stand comparison to Great Zimbabwe. Nearby Naletale (a TWHS) reportedly has the most interesting patterned stonework of all the Zimbabwes.
Map of Khami RuinsLoad map
The Khami Ruins have not been covered well by the reviews so far, the only two existing ones are short and date from visits in the 1990s. The ruins aren’t visited much by our members in general either, they are ranked #1007 out of 1157 currently. And it isn’t that they’re particularly hard to get to – they are open daily and lie just some 20km outside of the city of Bulawayo, which in itself is an excellent hub for 3 of Zimbabwe’s 5 WHS.
I went there fresh off the plane, having arrived on a direct 1-hour flight from Johannesburg to the international airport of Bulawayo. I picked up a rental car and drove across the sprawling city to the west. I had Waze direct me, until on the outskirts of the city I started noticing signposting towards ‘Khami Ruins’. I decided to follow those, which turned out to be a good choice as Waze wanted me to turn into the access road to the Khami prison (no, not the archeological site of a prison).
The final 5km of the drive is on an unpaved road, and the 5km before that the asphalt only covers half – the rest is potholes and sand. You’ll pass a house now and then, but I don’t see the city encroachment becoming a problem quickly. The signposting stays excellent til the end. You will enter the (unmanned) gate with the ‘Welcome to Khami Unesco World Heritage Site’ sign and the WH logo, and eventually end up at a neat area that houses the car park, the museum and the reception.
The site seems staffed by one guard and some maintenance people. The guard took my 10 USD entrance fee, gave me a ticket and had me write my name into the visitors' book. It turned out that, at 2 p.m., I was the first visitor of the day. The day before only one party had visited as well. 8,000 visited yearly in the 1990s – those numbers might be even lower nowadays. The ‘museum’ is one exhibition room which I did not pay much attention to, but later I read that they do have original findings from the site on display such as a zoomorphic pot from one of the huts (I should have read my notes better!).
From the car park, a walking trail leads you around the Hill Complex, which holds the site’s main cluster of dry-stone monuments. I had seen very few photos of the Khami Ruins beforehand, but I was amazed by the scale and the quality of it all. There are several different monuments to explore across a large terrain. I enjoyed navigating the narrow entrances, climbing the steps, and seeing the pretty designs of how the stones were put together. My footsteps scared away lots of birds, who thought they had found a quiet place to rest. From the highest point (in what was the royal enclosure) you can also see the Khami River flowing, which forms a natural buffer to the site.
The ruins have been restored with the help of the World Monuments Fund in 1996 and 2000, and had another significant revamp in 2017; they now look in a good state of conservation.
The major monuments such as the Hill Platform and the Cross Platform all have a name sign. Unfortunately, there are no information panels on site to explain what the use of specific buildings was. In the end, I just paused for a bit under a tree and retrieved my notes (4g access is spotty on site) to check whether I had seen the main structures and what they were used for. This lack of information is the site’s main issue, so either bring your own notes – you can try combining the info from this source with Maps.me which shows the various structures on a map. Or buy the official guidebook from the museum, but I didn’t get a look at its quality.
As I haven’t been to Great Zimbabwe yet, I cannot compare the two drystone cities. They stylistically differ on two points: whereas at Great Zimbabwe stone walls enclosed or separated groups of huts, here at Khami they served as retaining walls for terraces on which huts were then built. The walls of Khami also show more decorative patterns.
Read more from Els Slots here.
We visited Khami in 1990, on a day trip from Bulawyo (hitching). It was great to be alone at the site - there weren't even staff there to take payment and to walk around with no guides(people ,signs or maps). but it did mean we didn't have much information on what we were seeing.
We also hitched to a round church in a local village with lots of murals - biblical stories but where all the key figures were African - it was this which was the highlight of the day ( I wonder if the church is still there? )
It is perhaps a bit surprising that both Great Zimbabwe AND Khami ruins are registered as separate WHS. They are however from different, albeit related, cultures. Historically the former preceded the latter. My personal view is that, unless you are either a “WHS nut” or particularly interested in pre-colonial African ruins/history then you should concentrate your efforts on getting to Great Zimbabwe and give Khami a miss.
If you are in Bulawayo then Khami is only 22kms away but you will need your own transport or have to pay for a tour and the entrance fees for foreigners reflect a certain lack of realism as to the value of what is “on offer”.
Khami is a court complex of the Torwa state from around the 15th century. Like all “Zimbabwes” the palace is built on a hill and a number of stone walls from the structures partially remain. I didn’t personally didn’t find it a particularly worthwhile place to visit when we did so in 1997.
A few miles away however the ruins of Naletale were in a totally different class. Not only was there no entrance hassle, the site offered complete peace and the most wonderful patterned brick/stonework – far better than you will see at either Great Zimbabwe or Khami. There are apparently 5 types of pattern and Naletale has fine examples of all of them. From a distance it looks like a tapestry in stone. Look at a photo at http://www.geocities.com/thetropics/island/6697/africa9899/pic10.html
The site has 1 locations
The site has 12 connections
Science and Technology
WHS on Other Lists
26 Community Members have visited.