Facts and Data

Official Unesco Page

Basis Data:
Unesco World heritage since: 2003
Size of heritage: 205,000 ha
- Buffer zone: 105,000 ha

Longitude: 28,500°
Latitude: -19,500°


The area exhibits a profusion of distinctive rock landforms rising above the granite shield that covers much of Zimbabwe. The large boulders provide abundant natural shelters and have been associated with human occupation from the early Stone Age right through to early historical times, and intermittently since. They also feature an outstanding collection of rock paintings. The Matobo Hills continue to provide a strong focus for the local community, which still uses shrines and sacred places closely linked to traditional, social and economic activities.

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Matobo Hills: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe

Matobo Hills, located in the Matebeleland South Province of Zimbabwe, is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its unique landscape, rich cultural history, and exceptional rock art. Spanning over 3,100 square kilometers, this site holds immense significance for both its natural and cultural heritage.

Historical Significance

The history of Matobo Hills dates back thousands of years, with evidence of human habitation in the area dating back to the Stone Age. The hills have been a sacred site for the indigenous San people, who left behind an extensive collection of rock art depicting their daily lives, spiritual beliefs, and hunting scenes. These rock paintings provide valuable insights into the cultural practices and traditions of the San people, making Matobo Hills an important archaeological site.

During the 19th century, the hills became a refuge for the Ndebele people led by King Mzilikazi, who sought protection from the Zulu warriors. Mzilikazi established his capital in the region, and the hills served as a stronghold for the Ndebele kingdom. The area witnessed numerous battles and conflicts during the colonial era, including the famous Battle of Shangani in 1893, which marked the end of Ndebele resistance against British colonization.

Natural and Cultural Features

Matobo Hills is characterized by a unique granite landscape, with massive balancing rocks and boulders scattered across the area. These granite formations, shaped by millions of years of erosion, create a breathtaking and otherworldly scenery. The hills are also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including several endemic species.

The cultural significance of Matobo Hills is further enhanced by the presence of numerous ancient rock art sites. These rock paintings, estimated to be around 2,000 years old, depict a wide range of subjects, including animals, humans, and spiritual beings. The artistry and symbolism of these paintings provide valuable insights into the spiritual beliefs and cultural practices of the San people.

Current State and Conservation Efforts

Matobo Hills continues to be an important cultural and natural heritage site, attracting visitors from around the world. However, the site faces several challenges, including illegal mining, deforestation, and encroachment by local communities. These activities pose a threat to the delicate ecosystem and the preservation of the rock art.

To address these challenges, the Zimbabwean government, in collaboration with UNESCO and other stakeholders, has implemented various conservation measures. These include the establishment of the Matobo National Park, which provides legal protection to the area and its wildlife. Additionally, community-based initiatives have been introduced to promote sustainable tourism and raise awareness about the importance of preserving the site's cultural and natural heritage.

Efforts are also underway to document and preserve the rock art, ensuring its long-term survival. Conservationists and archaeologists work tirelessly to monitor the condition of the paintings and implement measures to prevent deterioration. Educational programs and guided tours are offered to visitors, allowing them to appreciate the historical and cultural significance of Matobo Hills while promoting responsible tourism.

Matobo Hills stands as a testament to the rich history and natural beauty of Zimbabwe. Its UNESCO World Heritage status ensures its protection and preservation for future generations, allowing them to connect with the ancient traditions and marvel at the stunning landscape of this remarkable site.