Bulawayo's name means 'the killing place,' and executions of rival tribes had long been practiced by the dominant Ndebele. These warlike descendents of Shaka and his Zulus were nineteenth century migrants from South Africa.
The most recent bloodshed was in the early 1980s when President Robert Mugabe, a member of the ruling Shona tribe, violently suppressed Ndebele dissent. But the Ndebele were first defeated by the British. A subsequent gold rush gave the town initial impetus but proved to be short-lived. Finally, Cecil Rhodes, (the English imperialist) and his railway put Bulawayo on the map and it remains a transport hub today.
Bulawayo welcomed the country's first train in 1897 and its Railway Museum traces the last century of rail travel. A model of an historic station complete with period furnishings, and Cecil Rhodes' own private carriage, used to carry his body from Cape Town to the nearby Matobos hills, are some of the attractions.
Railway enthusiasts can arrange to ride the steam locomotives that still puff their way through the city. The National Railways of Zimbabwe publicity officer can be found in company headquarters on Fife Street.
Centenary Park and Central Park are adjacent to each other and make up forty-five hectares of green shade in the city centre. Central Park boasts Zimbabwe's largest ornamental fountain which was erected to commemorate the city's seventy-fifth birthday in 1968.
Along with a miniature railway, an aviary, a botanical garden and the municipal campsite, Bulawayo's theatre and National History Museum are to be found in Centenary Park. You'll find both parks on Samuel Parirenyatwa Street, east of the Bulawayo Publicity Association.
Founded in 1901, Bulawayo's Museum of Natural History is the country's finest museum. It has the largest indigenous mammal collection in Southern Africa and the second largest mounted elephant in the world. Birds, reptiles, fish and insects are also included and, in all, the museum houses 75,000 specimens.