I have been holiday in Kenya a couple of times. I have gone to see the wildebeest migration at the Mara and I have vacationed in the sandy beaches of Diani. Surprisingly, and perhaps strangely. I have never been to Fort Jesus museum, despite it being located in Mombasa Old Town, which is not too far from the airport.
Last December on my trip to the East African country, I took a train ride down the coast and with the services of a local tour company, I got to visit the Fort Jesus museum. We took a taxi from the Miritini train station for a one-hour ride to the Mombasa City CBD.
The Local Area
I found the warm climate of Mombasa to be a bit intense compared to Nairobi’s cold weather. But the people are friendlier. There are street food vendors donning the streets. From the CBD, Fort Jesus is a 5-minute walk. There is ample parking outside the museum located in the Old Town part of the city and bordering the shoreline. Residents and other East Africans pay $5 which is equivalent to 500 Kenyan shillings. Non-residents pay $20 which is 2000 in Kenyan currency at the entrance. The monument itself has a rich history.
Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, 1593, to be precise as one of the very friendly museum guides made me learn, it first acted as an entry point for Portuguese goods into the East African nation. Later, it turned into a military fortress during their battle for control of the coastal city with the Omani Arabs.
I saw various ancient military weapons preserved in the museum. I was lucky to be shown some of the original designs of the fort dated 1610 done by the Italian architect Joao Batista Cairato. There are pictures of Portuguese and British soldiers of various ranks arranged on the walls of the museum.
What intrigued me the most is learning of the military cooperation the British and the Portuguese after Kenya became a British protectorate. The British took over the facility and turned it into a prison for local fighters opposing their occupation of the nation.
There are artifacts like cowrie shells, wrist bands, and bangles on sale in the museum curio shop. I also got to sit through a film made by the National Museums of Kenya depicting and reminiscing on the history, businesses and lives of the Portuguese, Omani Arabs and Britons on the Kenyan coast. The Fort Jesus museum was declared a World Heritage Site signifying its historical importance.