Known by the locals as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or “The Smoke That Thunders”, the Victoria Falls was declared a World Heritage Site in 1989 for being one of the most spectacular waterfalls on earth. While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest single sheet of falling water, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and its height of 108 metres (354 ft).
A Scottish explorer by the name of David Livingstone was the first European explorer to see the Falls in 1855. His journey was to find a route to the East Coast of Africa from Luanda. He decided to name the falls “Victoria Falls” as a gift to the British Monarch, Queen Victoria.
After the news about the discovery of the Falls reached far corners of the globe, it soon became a busy trading hub. The first trading town in Victoria Falls was developed on the Zambian side of the river and was called Old Drift. As more and more tourists and visitors arrived to see the magnificent falls, so did the number of cases of malaria. The disease took such a toll on the town, that at the end of the century, Old Drift was moved to where it still stands today, as the town of Livingstone in Zambia.
David Livingstone also suffered from such diseases on numerous occasions in the decade or so following his discovery of the Falls. His lack of contact with the outside world as well as his general state of health became such a great concern that, in 1869, The New York Herald newspaper sent Henry Morton Stanley to Africa to find David Livingstone. In November 1871, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in a small town of Ujiji, Stanley finally met with David Livingstone and greeted him with the famous words, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”
After failing to convince Livingstone to return to England, Henry Morton Stanley returned on his own in 1872. It was not long after this, on the 1st May, 1873, that Dr David Livingstone died from malaria and irreparable damage from dysentery at the age of 60. He died at Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala, 100 km southeast of the Lake Bangweulu. His loyal attendants, Susi and Chuma, decided to bury his heart in the village under a Mvula Tree. They then prepared his body and carried it across the country to the east coast village of Bagamoyo, where, together with his journal, his remains were shipped back to England. His remains were then buried at Westminster Abbey in London.
The Victoria Falls Bridge was built in 1905 to link what are now Zimbabwe and Zambia. The bridge was the vision of Cecil John Rhodes, who wanted “the spray of the Falls on the train carriages”, but unfortunately he died before it was completed. The bridge was constructed from steel and the arch spans 156.50 metres, with a height of 128 metres above the valley floor. Apart from carrying the usual cars, trains and foot traffic, it also hosts the world-famous, 111 metre Shearwater Bungee Jump.
The railway encouraged the first influx of tourists to the Falls and the original Victoria Falls Hotel was constructed in 1906. 66 years later, the growing village was granted town status. A railway museum near the Victoria Falls is a good source of information for railway enthusiasts.