By Norma Tsopo
The ancient feel, history, and beautiful scenery make Leopard Rock Hotel’s Castle a major attraction – perhaps as much as the iconic luxury hotel.
This anthropogenic feature offers variety to a region that found world fame from its natural escapement that is part of the Eastern Highlands and rich biodiversity – gravid with rare plants, animals and bird species.
Its historic significance makes it a tourist magnet.
And for ascetic value – for the best angle to view the hotel and horizons beyond, visit the Castle!
The castle was built two years after the hotel in 1946 by Italian prisoners of war (POW) – owing to Rhodesia’s facility to get them as it was fighting on the Allies’ side. They had then just finished building the Leopard Rock Hotel over a two-year period commencing in 1944.
It was meant to be the hotel owner Seymour Smith’s family’s residence.
Essentially built on rock outcrops – it enclosed within itself the rock upon which the hotel got its name – a rock outcrop on which the Smiths would often spot a leopard basking in the sun.
It is the same rock upon which they would also enjoy the views into Mozambique and Vumba while enjoying their Gin and Tonics.
The amazing structure was built entirely from mud and stones but is still intact more than half a century on. The built in furnishings and cabinets which are still in immaculate condition were made from Mozambique hardwood by the Italians.
Although the plan was to have a bigger castle, the end of World War 2 and subsequent peace treaties meant the POW had to be returned leaving it incomplete.
It was meant to have a second turret wing.
Its lack of completion however did not deter it from hosting the Queen Mother on her Royal Visit in 1953. In her famed great humour, on observing the remarkable toilet embedded in the ‘leopard rock’ exclaimed ‘I see you have your own throne’.
She literally endorsed its castle status after her one night stint in the immaculate architectural wonderment.
The castle is a complex maze of staircases, passages, hallways and tunnels. Some of the entrances are really small betraying the body sizes of its original owners and their referred servants.
The design and functions of the infrastructure also reveals the social structures and relationship of the Smith family and their servants.
The most interesting aspect of this was a Turret in the corner of the dining room used by servants to be at their beck and call, but always to remain out of sight.
They would make them bath as often as they felt like with a bathroom and toilet just adjacent to the kitchen which was situated below the dining room.
A cupboard in the corner was then fitted with a dump-waiter pulley system where food would be lifted up from the kitchen below and delivered straight to diners at the table.
One enters the castle straight into a ground level lounge from with an adjacent bedroom.
The lounge is connected to the dining room with the turret with 30 stairs. It has a closet with fitted hardwood cupboards to the west and a bedroom to the east.
One would need to go up and turn back down another staircase to reach the kitchen below.
The master’s bedroom whose en suit bathroom has the ‘throne’ of a toilet sit built into to the rock outcrop after which the hotel is named is up the stairs.
There are yet more stairs and rooms upstairs to include two balconies – one of which there are spectacular views which all combine to make this a monument of note.
A dining area in the top floors with windows on either side is now being used to view the enchanting sunrises and sunsets – but only when the often misty weather permits.
When popular afro-jazz artist Jah Prayzah shot one of the best music videos – ‘Jerusalema’ on the Castle, very few believed Zimbabwe has such an enchantingly beautiful building.