Why you must visit Fort Jesus

Wednesday September 4 2019


The gallery at Fort Jesus. PHOTO | JEAN-PIERRE AFADHALI 

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A visit to the kenyan Coast city of Mombasa is not complete if one leaves out Fort Jesus, a mega structure built by Portuguese in 16th century.

Now a museum and put on the UN science and cultural body (Unesco) world cultural heritage list, the structure offers visitors the unforgettable lesson of Kenya, East African coast and relations with Arabs, colonisers and Africans from East Africa.

The museum has various sections on the history of the former military barracks.

The museum gallery stores various ancient objects including cups, pots, chairs and boats that were used by the people on the Indian coast.

There is also an excavator sculpture. Most importantly, there is a map showing historical sites on Kenya’s coast including Fort Jesus itself.

For ease of comprehension, there are texts in English, Kiswahili and Arabic besides French. Inside and outside the once formidable militarybarracks are big cannons.


The cannons were used to bomb boats in the ocean and guard the barracks.

According to Unesco, the Portuguese built Fort Jesus as a military base in Mombasa between 1593-1596. Information available in the museum says that in 1661 Mombasa leaders travelled to Oman to seek military assistance from Oman authorities to help expel Portuguese from Mombasa.

Fort Jesus was captured by Oman Arabs after a two year and nine month siege. Between 1895-1958 Fort Jesus was made a government prison. The building was converted into a museum in 1960, before it was opened to the public.

Entry fee is pegged at Ksh500 ($5) but one can negotiate.

There are details at the entrance besides main information about the museum.

While there are easy to understand write-ups in each section, guides can not only give visitors detailed account on Fort Jesus history but also help them tour the house and learn more about one of Mombasa’s landmarks.

I was amazed by how huge the ancient building is. It is not easy to complete all sections as I thought I had visited all places yet there were many I had not seen!

I was impressed by the fact that the house is still solid despite its age — a testament to its successful preservation.

In the museum is a section dedicated to Oman, where one can learn more the country’s culture and history.

School children, local and western tourists are the main visitors, making Fort Jesus busy and welcoming, especially given the good service.

A visit to Fort Jesus visit is a great learning experience on the history of East African region and the wider Africa past and their relations with the West and Arabs.

One cannot leave Mombasa without going to the beaches for fun time, relax, swim and other leisure activities. I visited the beautiful and friendly Nyali and Pirates/ Jomo Kenyatta public beaches.

Besides swimming one can ride a camel on the beach. It is hot in the city and as such, the ocean helps one cool off.

Those who would visit from Nairobi, there are various transport options such as road via buses or shuttles, train via the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) and domestic airlines.