Old Mombasa Town
Mombasa is Kenya’s main tourist destination. It is located on the Eastern coastline of Kenya bordering the Indian Ocean which has made it a popular destination for its beaches. Mombasa offers diverse marine life, world-class hotels and a friendly atmosphere. There is a tropical climate all year; it is a great destination filled with activities for all ages.
Mombasa is a Swahili founded and ruled city. It was founded between the 1st and 5th century. At certain times it was occupied by the Portuguese, Arabs and British and originated back in the 16th century. Mombasa’s culture today still exhibits that of its past. Historical ruins like Forte Jesus de Mombaça (Fort Jesus), an historic Portugese fort, and the Old Town are attractions influenced by Mombasa’s trade culture, with many examples of Portuguese and Islamic architecture.
“Old Town” is the part of Mombasa that is reminiscent of the days when the Arabs exerted a heavy influence on the town and its culture, and especially in the architecture and language (Kiswahili has a lot of phrases derived from various Arabic dialects). It is well known for its ancient buildings, extravagant art designs and curio shops that sell antique and popular Kenyan souvenirs. Old Town is best seen when explored by foot with an experienced guide, as the streets are too narrow to accommodate a large number of vehicles. The town’s inhabitants are mostly of Arab origin who’s forefathers once roamed the same streets of the town. Fort Jesus is located just a few steps away from where the town “starts”, thus a complete tour of the fort and the “Old Town” can be done in a single day.
Other Historical & Cultural Destinations:
- Fort Jesus – Fort Jesus is Mombasa’s most popular tourist attraction. The fort, located along the coastline near the Old Town, is a monumental piece of architecture that was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. The fort has a museum that displays various artifacts from the era where Mombasa served as a transit point for the slave trade and commodities, and which enjoyed regular visits by seafarers and the like. Its interior comprises of torture rooms and prison cells where slaves were kept in captivity before being traded. Weapons such as canons, which were used to defend the fort from invading foreigners as well as rioting locals, can be seen both inside and outside of the fort. The fort opens its gates for viewing in the morning and closes at dusk.
- Mombasa Tusks – The Mombasa “Tusks” are symbolic representations of entrance into the heart of the town. The tusks were built to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the town in 1952, as they lay directly on the path from the port to the town. Ivory was considered to be an exquisite commodity during the time, and in essence the tusks were meant to embrace the Queen and the British Empire into the town and within its social structure. Coincidentally the tusks also spell the letter “M” for Mombasa
- Hindu Temples – Hindu temples are one of the many symbols of Mombasa’s cultural diversity. Temples are a popular tourist spot and a tour can usually be taken inside the temple, with a historical background of the particular temple given by one of the temple gurus. Extravagant idols and stone carvings of the various religious beliefs are typically displayed within the temple and on its walls.
- Bombolulu Workshops – The Bobmbolulu workshops are located along the north coast of Mombasa. Founded in 1969, Bombolulu Workshops is a Project of the Association for the Physically Disabled in Kenya (APDK). It is a major tourist attraction which consists of a Cultural Centre with 8 traditional homesteads. The Centre also runs a traditional Restaurant and entertains guests with traditional dances throughout the day.
- Gedi Ruins – On the North Coast of Mombasa towards the Town of Malindi lays one the most historic ruins found in Mombasa, called the Gedi Ruins. Gedi was a small Town built entirely from rocks and stones, which was inhabited by a few thousand Swahili people and ruled by a very rich Sultan. These ruins date back from the 15th century, and through careful preservation most of the original foundations can still be seen today. A well-informed and educated guide gives a tour of the ruins. The ruins are designated as a National Museum by law, and their preservation are a direct reflection of the commitment of the Government to uphold the Country’s cultural and historical background.