Mombasa is the gateway to Kenya’s Coast and is the country’s second largest city. The town has a recorded history going back to two thousand years. Mombasa is still the major port of East Africa, and has a harmonious mixture of the ancient and the modern. It has a harmonious blending of the great cultures of Africa, Asia and Europe. The Old Town which lies next to the old port is a fascinating place of antiquity worth seeing.
The city sprawls across a low – lying island at the month of a broad inlet, which provides a fantastic natural anchorage for ships. Traders have been coming here since at least the 12th century and goods from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo (Zaire) all pass through here on their way overseas.
Must visit: Fort Jesus
Mombasa’s biggest tourist attraction dominates the harbor entrance at the end of Nkrumah St. It’s still an imposing edifice, despite being partially ruined. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1593 to enforce their rule over the coastal Swahilis, but they rarely managed to hold onto it for long. It changed hands at least nine times in bloody sieges between 1631 and 1875, before finally passing into the hands of the British.
An Italian architect, Joao Batista Cairato, who had done a lot of work for the Portuguese in Goa, designed the fort. There are some indeginous elements in its design which make it impossible to attack one wall without being a sitting duck for soldiers on the opposite battlements.
Today Fort Jesus houses a museum built over the former barracks for the garrison. The exhibits are mostly ceramics, reflecting the variety of cultures that traded along the coast, but include other interesting odds and ends donated from private collections or dug up from sites along the coast.
- The Omani house
- The eastern wall
- Passage of the Arches
Open from 8.30 am – 6 pm
The Old Town
While Mombasa’s Old Town doesn’t quite have the medieval charm of Lamu or Zanzibar, it’s still an interesting area to wander around. The houses here are characteristic of coastal East African architecture, with ornately carved doors and window frames and fretwork balconies, designed to protect the modesty of the female inhabitants.
Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to walk around as there’s more activity.
Mombasa has some interesting mosques but non Muslims are usually not permitted to enter: These include:
Other religious buildings include;
Lord Shiva Temple
Luxury dhow cruises around the harbor are very popular in the Mombasa and, not withstanding the price , they are an excellent way to see the harbor, Old Town and Fort Jesus and get a slap – up meal at the end of it.
Two of the most famous operators include: Tamarind Restaurant and Jahazi Marine