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Our Rich Cultural Heritage

A land of vivid culture and history Lesotho’s scenic natural attractions are complemented by its rich culture and fascinating heritage

With growing interest worldwide in cultural tourism, this subsector has the potential to play a central role in economic development. Lesotho boasts a number of must see tourist attractions, such as Habaroana Rock Art Interpretation Centre, with various other rock art sites needing to be developed as well as protected for future generations. The Department of Culture is responsible for protecting and promoting Lesotho´s national cultural heritage. Indigenous arts and culture are promoted through the cultural Policy Framework and supporting centres and activities of excellence, while support is also being given to initiatives already taken by local communities. Situated about 42km south of Maseru, the Morija Museum and Archives, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006, seeks to preserve Lesotho´s culture and history as well as promote the development of Sesotho art and culture. This custodian of Lesotho´s part is home to an impressive array of items of cultural and historical interests, as well as displays of dinosaur bones and San paintings. The museum also publishes a range of books based on Lesotho´s history and culture, including Á Guide to Morija´, which details historical events as well as describing walking trails. Tours of Morija are also organised.

A steep, flat-topped mountain about 20km from Maseru, Thaba-Bosiu is Lesotho´s most famous historical site. It is from this mountain fortress that King Moshoeshoe successfully defended the Basotho people against their attackers, and is often considered the birthplace of the nation. There is a visitors´ information centre at the base of the mountain and guided tours are available to the summit, from where there are commanding views of the countryside, including Qiloane pinnache, which inspired top-knot on the Basotho hat.

The Basotho Cultural Village

The Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture has developed a Cultural Village at Thaba – Bosiu to complement the existing historical mountain which attracts local and international visistors. Thaba – Bosiu mountain, the National Monument, is the most venerated site Lesotho because of its significance in the history of the Basotho Nation. Thaba- Bosiu, which is widely referred to as the birth place of the Basotho nation, is located 21km East of Maseru district in Lesotho. The main objectives of this project are to showcase Lesotho’s traditional and cultural heritage in a cultural centre, and to create a tourist destination offering a unique tourism product through provision of traditional and modern facilities. The project aims at influencing the present future Basotho generations as well as international visitors to relate to the Basotho culture in a positive light. Preservation of Cultural Heritage in the form of inter alia, an artistic and architectural expression of the past institutions has been endorsed by the World Decade for Cultural Development. As such, the Thaba–Bosiu Cultural Village will offer a unique tourism product through provision of the Basotho cultural and traditional lifestyle in aspects of accommodation and hospitality, entertainment, arts and crafts, indigenous plants, and modern facilities and activities that will interest both Basotho and international tourists. The accommodation and hospitality section of the facility consist of the cultural village that mainly consists of 40 huts and other elements such as kraals and a traditional wall. The cultural village shall represent the various tribes which constitute Basotho, especially around the time of King Moshoeshoe I, cave dwellers which were originally inhabited by the ‘San’ people and the colonial time. The statue Moshoeshoe 1 is ideally erected on the foreground of the village centrally located adjacent to the amphitheatre and is open for high-ranking Government Officials and Diplomats to place wreaths when presenting credentials. The Site Museum/ Interpretative Centre houses exhibitions of historical and cultural artifacts, photographs and general information on Thaba-Bosiu. There is also a courtyard with a mini statue representing men playing the famous traditional chess-like game of ‘moraba-raba’. Other aspects of the village include the Conference centre with carrying capacity of 200 people seated, which is used for exhibitions, performances and meetings. The Restaurant has carrying capacity of 150 persons, while the Amphitheatre is an open space with covered stage for music, dance and drama performances. The carrying capacity of the Amphitheatre is approximately 700 persons seated. There is also a Reception Block and 7 handicraft stalls for small business activity. Additionally, the cultural centre has features such as two open places (cultural and parade squares) which can used for national events and ceremonies; and a botanical garden as part of the landscape. In its endeavors to address the problem of accommodation shortages in some key tourist areas in the country, the government has constructed 41 self catering chalets. The Cultural Village started to be operational in June, 2009

Routes Tourist and Tours

Lesotho´s history and heritage may be explored with a variety of tours which encompass overland trips crossing mountain passes into valleys with spectacular waterfalls, the educational centre of Roma, dinosaur footprints in a riverbed, a unique cave village and craft centres. Places well worth a visit include Leribe, Subeng, Semonkong, Teyateyaneng, Ha kome, Ha Baroana, Kolonyama and Thaba-Bosiu. Memorable routes include:

Maseru to Thaba-Bosiu (35km) – incorporates the mountain fortress of Moshoeshoe, with a climb to the plateau from where the ruins of the villages and cemetery of the nation´s heroes can be seen. Rafutho´s Pass is the most important gateway into Moshoeshoe´s village which contains remnants of the walls built to defend the town. Wepener, commander of the invading boers who attacked Thaba-Bosiu, was killed here.

Maseru/Morija/Malealea (80km) – Highlights include the historic Thota-ea-Moli (former seat of the traditional Basotho parliament) and Moshoeshoe I International Airport, Morija and Youth Ecumenical Centre (Mophato oa Morija), and the Gate of Paradise Pass. There are pony rides from Malealea Lodge and hikes to Botsóela falls as well as rock pools and Bushmen rock art in the Pitseng river gorge.

Maseru/Matsieng/Morija (44km) – the route encompasses Thota-ea-Moli (Fika-le-Mohala) and Moshoeshoe I International Airport, stopping off at King Letsie´s country home, followed by a close inspection of dinosaur tracks. At Morija, the oldest village in Lesotho and home to the Morija Arts and Cultural Festival, you will find Morija Museun and Archives.

Maseru/TY/Kome (94km) – Crossing the Berea Plateau, where Moshoeshoe I met General Cathcart in the battle of 1852, the route moves on to Prophet Matita´s grave at Bethania, Matooane´s Fortress, Hatooa-Mose-Mosali, Helang Basali, Setsoto design and Elelloang Basali Handicrafts.

Morija Arts and Cultural Festival

The Morija Arts and Cultural Festival aims to unite the Basotho nation through cultural activities, educating young people about their heritage and promoting tourism and small-scale manufacturing. Since its inception in 1999, the festival has grown immensely in terms of activities, participants and visitors – a development that has had a very positive impact on domestic and regional tourism in Lesotho. Development during 2008 saw a five-day Morija Arts and Cultural Festival, sponsored by Telecom-Econet, launched on 2 October 2008 at the main arena Morija. The event was divided into two phases, with the first two days featuring a schools´cultural festival and the final three days the main festival, which included exhibitions and concerns. The intention of the festival is to showcase Sesotho culture and revive specific aspects thereof in order to boost tourism and encourage craft sellers and other entrepreneurs. Activities included a youth talent search, Jazz and Famo concert, youth day, family day, films, arts and crafts exhibition, pony trekking, hiking, tripling horse competition and church service.

Arts and Handicrafts

Lesotho’s articles of traditional clothing and ornamental wear are known far and wide for their high quality and ethnic simplicity and variety, and the resulting demand from other countries, regionally and internationally, has produced a valuable export market. Wool, mohair and sheepskin products, together with hand – woven tapestries are works of art noted for their durability. Basotho blankets re traditionally made from pure wool and the designs have cultural significance. Lesotho is also famed for its ornamental wear, and manufacturing jewelers create unique modern pieces using traditional materials combined with precious and semi – precious metals and stones. Internationally acclaimed pottery consists of exceptional stoneware, while the handicrafts industry is the preserve of skilled crafters, many of whom sell their wares on pavements and in craft centers. A number of straw crafts are available, including typical Basotho hat with its distinctive topknot. Basketry varies from region to region, with colorful an decorative patterns based on traditional designs.