Mapungubwe Hill and the valleys around it, today part of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site, was the seat of a powerful African Kingdom that ruled between 1,100 and 700 years ago. Mapungubwe Hill is by far South Africa’s most important iron age archeological site and can be visited on guided tours.
The Interpretive Centre at Mapungubwe, itself an award-winning architectural marvel, provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of the people who lived in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. Royalty ruled from atop the hill, with their subjects living below. The Kingdom’s riches were based on gold and ivory, traded with cultures from as far afield as Persia and China through a trade route leading through the east coast of Africa. Mapungubwe means “Place where rock turns into liquid” in reference to the smelting of gold practiced by the country’s citizens.
The rich archeological treasures of Mapungubwe were re-discovered in 1933. Having been recognised formally as a National Monument in 1984, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003.