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Mapungubwe World Heritage Site


Mapungubwe, Limpopo Province
Mapungubwe Hill, the ancient burial site of African Kings
©Mopane Bush Lodge

UNESCO World Heritage Site - Cultural Landscape

Destined to become a top wildlife and cultural safari destination, the fascinating remains of the ancient city state of Mapungubwe uncover the mysterious past of a sophisticated Iron Age society that traded with Asia and Arabia.

Did you know that a fascinating African civilization lived  in the Limpopo Valley a thousand years ago and traded with China?

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is situated on the northern border of the Limpopo Province at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers where South Africa neighbours Botswana and Zimbabwe. The rich cultural heritage and amazing biodiversity of the wildlife and vast savannah landscape contribute to the enormous potential of this region to become a major tourist destination in South Africa.

Giraffe, Limpopo Province
Giraffe sunset
©South African Tourism

1000 years ago, the "Place of the Stone of Wisdom" was the largest kingdom on the subcontinent.
The initial lure of the Limpopo Valley originated from abundant ivory collected from hunting the great herds of elephant that roamed the fertile valley. Gold was discovered later and this, combined with the agricultural richness of the fertile floodplains contributed to the large scale settlement of this region. Palace sites and the "Lost City of Gold" remain virtually intact along with two former city sites. This unique place is a matchless testimony to the growth of social and political structures over 400 years.

The stone buildings, burial sites and artefacts reveal advanced metal working, the earliest known confirmation of social stratification, and an advanced trade based society. The most famous artefact is the Golden Rhino, a single horned wooden carving covered in gold leaf. Its single horn is characteristic of the Indian rhino, an influence attributed to trade with India.  Mapungubwe Hill is the site where the nobility lived in seclusion and were elaborately buried. These discoveries have revealed a class based society that lived in a state about the size of Swaziland with Mapungubwe as its capital city.  The community thrived in this region for 400 years until climate changes impacted on agricultural activities and forced the Mapungubweans to leave. Gold reserves and firewood had also most likely been depleted.

Mapungubwe, Limpopo River
Limpopo River
©Mopane Bush Lodge

Mapungubwe burial sites and gold artefacts were first discovered in 1932 and hushed up during the apartheid years. Today exciting plans are underway for the formation of a transfrontier park incorporating Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa with the wildlife rich areas of the Tuli Block in Botswana and Zimbabwe’s Tuli Safari region. Once established, the enlarged Limpopo - Shashe Transfrontier Conservation Area will become a significant refuge for wild dog, black rhino and elephant, and many other threatened species.

The famous golden rhino, golden sceptre, golden bowl and various gold, ivory and copper ornaments, trade glass beads and Chinese celadon and ceramic ware are exhibited at the Mapungubwe Museum on the main campus of the University of Pretoria. Tel: +27 12 4203146

Justification for Inscription as a World Heritage Site:

  • Criterion (ii): The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape contains evidence for an important interchange of human values that led to far-reaching cultural and social changes in Southern Africa between AD 900 and 1300.
  • Criterion (iii): The remains in the Mapungubwe cultural landscape are a remarkably complete testimony to the growth and subsequent decline of the Mapungubwe state which at its height was the largest kingdom in the African sub-continent.
  • Criterion (iv): The establishment of Mapungubwe as a powerful state trading through the East African ports with Arabia and India was a significant stage in the history of the African sub-continent.
  • Criterion (v): The remains in the Mapungubwe cultural landscape graphically illustrate the impact of climate change and record the growth and then decline of the kingdom of Mapungubwe as a clear record of a culture that became vulnerable to irreversible change.

Source: UNESCO