Mombasa old town is believed to be the first place at the Kenyan Coast to be settled by the Swahili ethnic group.
At the mention of this old town, the first thing that crosses ones mind is the view of an old quiet town located at the edge of the sea that boasts of rich culture,ancient architecture,a diverse community and deep history.
In my recent trip to the old town that was organised by my host,Voyager Beach Resort,I got to experience the old town’s warmth, interacted with locals,visited Fort Jesus;a Portuguese fort that was built between 1593 and 1596, by order of King Philip I of Portugal to guard the Old Port of Mombasa and has since been declared by UNESCO as a world Heritage site.
Most importantly I had a better understanding of the history of one of the most visited places at the Kenyan coast.
Inside Fort Jesus…
Mombasa Old Town Brief History.
In the 12th Century, Muhammad Al Idrisi, a geographer and cartographer gave the first published reference of Mombasa.In the 13th Century: Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta traveled along the East African coast and claimed Mombasa among other Islands along the Swahili Coastline.15th Century: A standard map of Africa was drawn and the town of Mombaza is clearly Indicated.16th Century: The now old Port(Mombasa) was notably the docking place for Arabian, Indian, Persian and Somalian traders. During the annual monsoon winds, the traders would dock their dhows at this port and bring porcelain,textile, oils,silk and spices. During this period after the monsoon winds, some traders would stay back and settle in the old town. This settlement led to cultural blending that allows Mombasa to crow of diverse people, cultures, cuisine, architecture and languages.18th century: Kenya was declared a British protectorate and it proposed the construction of a new port with a deeper water harbor,to handle larger ships that brought in building materials and workers for the new railways, hence the construction of Kilindini harbor. This saw the moving of most activities from the now Mombasa Old port in Mombasa town.
The Old Town:
The buildings are conveniently located opposite each other and separated by narrow streets.
They are a mix of old Arabian, Portuguese,old British and Asian architectural designs, characterized by raised balconies, wooden windows, large Arabian doors and white coral walls.
They also have curved windows and narrow verandas if any.
Mombasa Old town houses the oldest mosque in Kenya, the first hotel in Kenya and the first post office too!
History lovers will most definitely have a field day at the Old town.
Along the narrow streets of Mombasa Old town, is Ali’s Curio shop. This is where you get tangible pieces of history in form of Arabian vases, treasure boxes, Aladdin lamps, rags, utensils amongst others.
After a long sunny day, the only place to go to is Jahazi Coffee House. The coffee house has been designed to be a meeting place where people of all walks of life can interact, share ideas and basically catch up over tea,coffee, juice and food.
As you wind up the tour of the old town, just a few meters from the main entrance and opposite Fort Jesus, lies the graveyard of the family of Ali Al’amin Mazrui who was an academic professor and a political writer on African and Islamic studies. He was born in Mombasa.
Beautiful place to visit no? As I always say…Pack your bags already.
- Carry bottled drinking water, dress for the coast and do not forget your sunscreen.
- Have some cash with you, it is more convenient than swiping your card.
- Have a guide with you during tours, tourists can be easy targets to thieves and con artists who masquerade as locals.Learn to bargain, unscrupulous traders usually take advantage of visitors and charge them exorbitantly for goods and services
- It is not mandatory to tip in Kenya, but a little appreciation goes a long way for proper services rendered.
Heritage Hotels with their Mombasa Resort;Voyager Beach Resort for organizing the trip. You can also have a tailor made tour to the Mombasa Old town and other must visit places in Mombasa when you book your stay by dropping them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org you can also read more about Voyager Beach resort here.
Thee Agora: A blog committed to the preservation of Kenya’s rich history and culture by covering various aspects of our diverse history.