Located in the south-west of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo is the county’s second largest city after Harare. After being founded by Ndebele King Mzilikazi in 1840, his successor, King Lobengula, renamed the original site to KoBulawayo (or ‘Place of Slaughter’) in 1870 as a tribute to the bloody victories necessary in establishing the Ndebele nation. Today the city now prefers to market itself as the ‘City of Kings’ or the ‘City of Blue Skies’ in an understandable attempt to project a friendlier, more palatable, image.
Bulawayo has fared relatively well during Zimbabwe’s recent economic woes; the city’s close proximity to South Africa and Botswana make it the hub of the nation’s railway network, developing a solid infrastructure and modern multicultural image as a result.
While Bulawayo serves as a convenient stop off for Zimbabwe’s more renowned attractions, the rich history, pleasant climate and friendly atmosphere make it worthwhile to stay and explore for a day or two. Those with an interest in the colonial past will find much of interest here. The story of Cecil John Rhodes is a prominent one. Convinced of vast gold reserves in the area, Rhodes deceived Lobengula into signing away his people’s land through the infamous Rudd Concession in 1893. The Anglo-Ndebele war followed in which Rhodes orchestrated victory using the British South Africa Company (BSAC). The subsequent settlement of prospectors and traders led to the creation of a central city district of organised streets and avenues, sewerage schemes and even municipal electricity. Much of the colonial architecture and influence still remains and visits to the excellent Natural History Museum, Railway Museum and National Art Gallery lay testament to the irreversible impact Rhodes and his compatriots had on the region.
Numerous areas of interest also await just outside the city. The Khami ruins, yet another of Zimbabwe’s Unesco world heritage sites, are the remains of a 15th-century stone age and iron age capital of the Shona people. The difference in structure and construction methods make it a worthwhile excursion for anyone intending on visiting the Great Zimbabwe ruins 250km east. A number of nearby wildlife sanctuaries, picturesque picnic spots and quaint chapels visited by the British royal family only add to the diversity a stay in Bulawayo has to offer.
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