Mutare (known as Umtali until 1983) is the third largest city in Zimbabwe, with an urban population of around 188,243 and rural population of around 260,567. It is the capital of Manicaland province.
Although the city was founded in the late nineteenth century, the region has a long history of trading caravans passing through on the way to the Indian Ocean, from ports such as Sofala, to inland settlements, such as Great Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is also renowned for its soapstone carvings and figurines which are evidence of these trade routes, dating as far back as the late African Iron Age (c. 900 AD) right up to the colonial period. A large hoard of soapstone carvings, jewellery, weapons, sherds and other objects were found in the vicinity of Mutare at the beginning of the twentieth century - they were later donated by the trustees of Cecil Rhodes to the British Museum in 1905. The soapstone figures, which are both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic, may have been part of a votive offering, as they were discovered near what appeared to be an altar by the British archaeologist E M Andrews.
Mutare was founded in 1897 as a fort, about 8 km from the border with Mozambique, and is just 290 km from the Mozambican port of Beira, earning Mutare the title of "Zimbabwes Gateway to the Sea". It is sometimes also called "Gateway to the Eastern Highlands". Many Zimbabwean locals refer to it as Kumakomoyo (place of many mountains).There is a border railway station on the railway line from Harare to Beira with a railways mechanical workshop.
The area was the site of Chief Mutasas kraal. In 1890 A.R. Coquhoun was given concessionary rights and Fort Umtali (the fort later became Mutare) was established between the Tsambe and Mutare Rivers. The word mutare originates from the word Utare meaning iron (or possibly meaning gold). The name was probably given to the river as a result of gold being discovered in the Penhalonga valley through which the Mutare River runs.
In 1891 the location was moved to a site now known as Old Mutare, about 14 km north of the city centre. In 1896 the construction of the railway between Beira and Bulawayo led to the town being moved a third time so that it was closer to the railway line – compensation was paid by the British South Africa Company to the townspeople for the cost of moving. The town was proclaimed a municipality in 1914 and in 1971 it was granted city status. The name was officially changed from Umtali to Mutare in 1982.
There used to be a tramway, which transported passengers from the Railway station up to the (then Umtali Club) now Mutare Club. The Tramway was at the centre of Main Street where the palm trees now stand
There were plans to set up a Stock Exchange in Umtali. The main post office was at the site where CABS centre now stands.
There is a siren which has a horn audible in almost any location in the city. It rings at the National Railways of Zimbabwe Complex at 7:50 am, 7:00 am 12:00 noon 1:00pm and 4:30pm.
The town lies north of the Bvumba Mountains and south of the Imbeza Valley. Christmas Pass is a mountain pass that leads into the city from the west. The pass was so named by some of the colonial pioneers who camped at the foot of the pass on Christmas Day 1890.
Mutare is home to the Mutare Museum, the Utopia House Museum dedicated to Kingsley Fairbridge, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Murahwa Hill, known for its rock paintings and Iron Age village, Cross Kopje with a memorial to Zimbabweans and Mozambicans killed in World War I and a nature reserve Cecil Kopje and Tigers Kloof. The Mutare Boys High Chapel was constructed in honour of former Old boys who perished in World War II, situated on a hilly knoll at Mutare Boys High (then Umtali Boys High).
Mutare is served by rail with daily passenger and freight links to the towns of Nyazura, Rusape and Harare.
There are two small aerodromes; the smallest is at Mutare Provincial Hospital a very small light aircraft strip for emergency evacuation (now defunct) and a light plane aerodrome in Sakubva near Mutare Teachers College. There is yet a third airport constructed in Chiadzwa to carry diamonds for processing in Harare.
The main activities of the area are citrus farming, mining (The citys name is derived from "metal") and forestry. Two of the largest food producers in Zimbabwe, Cairns Foods and Tanganda Tea, operate in Mutare.