The Wonders of Fort Jesus in Kenya
Kenya’s history cannot be detached from the Fort Jesus in Kenya, which became prominent during the colonial period. This is a strong cultural attraction with a rich history. The Portuguese established and built it on Kenya’s eastern coast in 1593–1596 to secure their trade route to India and their interests in East Africa after being lords of the East African coast for over a century.
The motivation of the Portuguese for this establishment because of their base in Malindi, where they had a factory. The Turkish assaults of 1585 and 1588 were crucial in determining whether or not the Portuguese should build a fort at Mombasa. On April 11, 1593, Mateus de Mendes de Vasconcelos consecrated the stronghold and titled it “Fortaleza de Jesus de Mombaça” (the then captain of the coast who resided at Malindi). The fort was finished in 1596, with four sections named S. Felipe, S. Alberto, S. Mathias, and S. Mateus. S. Felipe, S. Alberto, S. Mathias, and S. Mateus formed a quadrilateral with four bastions. Near S. Mathias Bastion was the main gate. It was created by Italian architect Giovanni Battista Cairati. On Africa’s East Coast, Mombasa became Portugal’s principal commercial port.
Let’s briefly explore the history of Fort Jesus in Kenya.
It is believed that variables or parameters of cultural, commercial, and political forces were forming in the sixteenth century. The fort was erected by the Portuguese according to the plans of Joao Batista Cairato, who was inspired by Italian architect Pietro Cataneo. Despite the Renaissance-style architecture with its five bastions, the Swahili people, who were the indigenous residents of Mombasa, provided the building materials and labor. When viewed from above, the fort resembles a human figure.
After the departure of the first commander, Mateus de Mendes de Vasconcelos, relations between the Portuguese and the Sultan of Mombasa (who were the rulers of Mombasa at the time of the fort’s construction) began to worsen. Muhammad Yusif, a Goa native who was baptized as Dom Jeronimo Chingulia, was named Sultan in 1626.
The fort immediately became a valuable asset when it came to controlling Mombasa Island and the surrounding trade routes, and it was gained and lost nine times throughout numerous conflicts for control of Kenya between 1631 and 1875, until ultimately falling to the British. Due to its crucial strategic location, no other fort in Africa is considered to have undergone as much volatility as Fort Jesus.
After Fort Jesus was completed, the battle continued over its ownership, and Fort Jesus was fought over after the Portuguese settled there. It was seized and reclaimed nine times between 1631 and 1895, changing hands nine times before being taken over by the Omani Arabs in 1698. The British turned it into a jail in 1895, and slaves were confined in the torture chambers and cells in the fort’s inner sanctum. There were also cannons to defend the interior from incursions by disgruntled residents. The Portuguese renovated it after recapturing it, and it has been restored several times since then, with its construction reflecting Portuguese, Arab, and British influences.
In 1993, a Swahili Cultural Centre was founded in the Fort’s museum to teach Kenyan youngsters traditional Swahili crafts as well as business management, allowing them to become self-employed. The Mombasa Butterfly House, which just opened to the public, is a live butterfly exhibit that depicts a tropical butterfly paradise in a natural setting, where visitors can learn about butterfly biodiversity and how it affects local populations. The museum is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day.
Late in 1858, this important feature was declared a national park and later gazetted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with more magnificent structures. At the moment, the area has turned into an important tourist attraction that has attracted several tourists, especially those who are interested in culture and history. There is the presence of a museum that documents all the cultural proceedings within Kenya, showing how the Portuguese and other colonial forces were fighting for it.
Several artefacts, pottery, and ceramics from the era when Mombasa served as a stopover for slave trade and commodities may also be seen during a visit to the museum. The Portuguese ship Santo António de Tanná is also on display, which sank during a siege off Fort Jesus in 1698.
As of today, Fort Jesus is a popular tourist site for both international and local visitors in Kenya. The Fort is essential as a host for several research programs, a conservation lab, an education department, and an old town conservation office, in addition to being a tourist site. Visitors can incorporate their Mombasa safaris with the historical tour of Fort Jesus.
Tourist Attractions in Fort Jesus in Kenya
Ships, chameleons, fish, and armored warriors are among the antique wall paintings within the fort, which were finished with ochre and charcoal by Portuguese sentries. View artifacts, pottery, and ceramics from diverse civilizations that traded along the coast during the time when Mombasa functioned as a transit station for the slave trade and commodities, and was frequented by mariners and other travelers. Inside, there are torture rooms and jail cells where slaves were held captive before being sold.
Another important thing to do and see is the Mombasa Butterfly House, which just opened to the public, is a live butterfly exhibit that depicts a tropical butterfly paradise in a natural setting, where visitors can learn about butterfly biodiversity and how it affects local populations.
Three times a week, the fort hosts a stunning music and light performance. Visitors are greeted by guards dressed in flowing robes and wielding burning torches as they enter the Fort. The history of the Fort is retold in a coordinated display using lights, sound effects, and performers. The evening includes a romantic supper eaten under the stars in the Fort’s open courtyard. This incredibly atmospheric night out is the ideal way to cap off the day while learning more about Mombasa’s history. A sunset dhow sail in Mombasa port can be paired with the music and light display.
The “Hall of Mazrui,” located within the fort enclosure, has floral spirals that fade over a wall capped with wooden lintels left by the Omani Arabs. Some ancient structures, such as Oman House, where the Sultan of the East African coast dwelt, are still visible. A 76-foot deep well excavated by the Arabs is visible, as is an open water cistern used by the Portuguese to collect water.
In 1993, a Swahili Cultural Centre was founded in the Fort’s museum to teach Kenyan youngsters in traditional Swahili crafts, as well as business management, allowing them to become self-employed.
Getting to Fort Jesus in Kenya
Visitors who are interested in exploring the Fort Jesus can get to the place by road through Mombasa Island, along the Nkurumah road, in Kenya’s Coast region. It is around a 490-kilometer trip from Nairobi city through Mombasa Road, which takes about 8 hours and 40 minutes. Also visitors can use the air transport and from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to Mombasa, then drive to Fort Jesus.