May 21, 2009

Fort Jesus

Filed under: Introduction — parto @ 9:15 am

Fort Jesus was built by the Portuguese in 1596 to guard the harbor entrance at Mombasa and thus in a way control the Indian Ocean trade between East Africa and India. At the time they had a number of rivals like the expansionist Turks and some unwilling hosts like the Wamvita.

The first Portuguese to set foot at the East African coast were in a fleet of four ships and 160 sailors and soldiers, under the command of Vasco Da Gama. On arrival the Mombasa people were not friendly. The Portuguese thought it prudent to sail on north, where they were welcomed by the king of Malindi.The king needed help in his fight with Mombasa so he gave Vasco da Gama a pilot who guided his fleet to Bombay, India and back to Malindi.

The Portuguese needed a sea route to India so that they could benefit in the trade of spices and gold by buying at source instead through other countries. Hence Malindi became the first Portuguese on the East African coast pillar which exists till today. The Portuguese pulled out of Malindi in 1953, attacked Mombasa and began to build Fort Jesus which was completed three years later. Over time, the fort fell into the hands of the Sultan of Mombasa, Omani Arabs, and later the British who used it as a prison during their rule of East Africa. Fort Jesus has major attractions which include:

Omani House

The Omani House is important in the history of Fort Jesus because it is were the Portuguese made their last stand against the Omani Arabs in the Early morning of December 1698. Through the Portuguese made a last desperate attempt to save the fort, the captain was shot and beheaded and the Portuguese were defeated.

The term Omani House is due to its display and renovations done to Omani donation. The display includes a collection of Omani Silver Jewellery which was used by Omani ladies, Omani weaponry such as swords, daggers, old muskets and Omani cutlery like coffee pots, bowls and plates.


There is a skeleton on display in a glass case. This skeleton was excavated at the exact site when a museum worker cleaning the place discovered a ring like structure protruding from the ground. According to Archeologists, this skeleton is of late 16th or early 17th centaury which coincides with the period of the Great Siege of Fort Jesus.


On the site of the present museum building the Portuguese was one barracks during the British period when the fort was used as a prison; the barracks were converted and used as prison cells. In the Museum there are a variety of exhibits ranging from the Mombasa ship wreck Exhibition. Other exhibits include items or artifacts collected from coastal sites along the Kenyan Coast arranged according to historical period from 9th to 19th centaury.

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