A city that holds history dating to centuries ago, the Mombasa Old town together with The Fort Jesus is today a UNESCO world heritage centre. Covered with ancient buildings complimented by carved doors and uniquely styled wooden balconies, I take a walk in the old town to appreciate the vintage Mombasa. It is not clear when Mombasa came to existence but being popular for its trade, Mombasa harboured an active port by the 12th Century. This attracted invasion from foreigners and scramble of the city. This should tell you that these people realised the potential of this island back in the day.
It is concerning how today’s generation is so into the future like which new phone will come out next or where to find a good selfie spot for the gram while our heritage flies away right before our eyes. So how about a trip down memory lane? I am going to highlight a few interesting places in Mombasa that have a story from the past.
The Old Port
Mombasa has had a major port for over a thousand years. Yes, believe it or not, trade has been going on in this city for centuries and centuries. The old port served as one of the major ports participating in the triangular dhow trade of The Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf trading ivory, glass, copper, ornaments and even slaves. After both Kenya and Uganda came under the British Protectorate, the British saw the port as an important element of trade and this led to the birth of the railway from Mombasa to Uganda.
Fun fact: The door you see above is the same entrance the Indians used when they came to build the railway.
The Oldest Mosque
Mandhry Mosque is the oldest mosque in Mombasa discovered in 1507. The mosque displays a unique form of architecture blending Arab and African Bantu influence. It is safe to say it brings out the best description of what Swahili would look like visually.
The Fort Jesus
After the struggle of claiming Mombasa between the Arabs and the Portuguese, the latter decided to build the fort between 1593 – 1596 as a way of claiming Mombasa and its Port and also showing that they were here to stay. Between 1631 and 1895,the fort went through a series of evolution acting as a tool of war and changing ownership numerous times.It has been used as ‘bay watch’ to protect the port from invaders, a prison and it was even a national park at some point. The fort today is a museum which has an interesting history and its unique type of construction displays an outstanding form of preservation from the Portuguese.
Fort Jesus was built to the designs of Giovanni Battista Cairati (he drew his inspiration from an Italian architect) and the layout reflects the Renaissance Period through its perfect geometry and human shape. You should definitely take some time and visit the fort while in Mombasa.
This hotel was up and functioning by 1901 and it is supposedly the first hotel in Kenya. It was popular for its balconies that overlooked the sea serving as a perfect view.
If you’ve been to Mombasa then you must have come across the famous tusks located on Moi Avenue. An interesting fact about the tusks is that they were built to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mombasa in 1952.
The tusks symbolise the elephant’s tusks which were used as ivory and this was a popular item of trade back in the day. They are locally known as Pembe za Ndovu which translates to the elephant’s tusks. These popular tusks can be said to be the symbol of Mombasa and they coincidentally form the letter M: M for Mombasa.
The Coffee Pot
The Coffee Pot located on the Fort Jesus mini roundabout serves as a tremendous dramatic entrance to the Old Town. The coffee pot was a gift to Mombasa built by Mr. Burhan Ali Taher in 1988. It flourishes as a nice symbol of culture through the Arab tradition of drinking coffee. Today this is a Swahili tradition commonly practised in Mombasa.
Mombasa holds a significant element of history giving you the essence of different eras and cultures which should be highly appreciated.
PS: The information from the past was obtained from the National Museums of Kenya and a little history I learnt from my awesome grandpa.