Fort Jesus Museum: A Walk Through Kenya’s History
Fort Jesus Museum also known as Fort Jesus presents testimony to the first successful attempt by the Western Civilization to rule the Indian Ocean trade route, while until them remained under the Eastern influence.
Fort Jesus Museum is located in Mombasa City on the coast of Kenya, the fort is a symbol of history of Mombasa town and one of the best preserved evidence of outstanding military fortification during the 16th century.
Fort Jesus was built in the late 16th century in the Old Town of Mombasa by the Portuguese and what is known as a museum today was used as a defensive block and protected the Portuguese of the Eastern Coast of Kenya. The fort served as a barrack for the Portuguese soldiers and later when the British Protectorate to over power of the coast, it was converted into a prison.
Today the fort is a significant historical landmark in Kenya and is under the management of the National Museums Association of Kenya, the museum is also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About Fort Jesus Museum
Fort Jesus was built during the latter years of the 16th century (1539 – 1596) by the Portuguese soldiers in town of Mombasa, at that time the town used to be the center and gateway to India which prompted the Portuguese to build a fort to protect the town from any outside influences.
The Fort stands on the coastline of Mombasa representing the historical times when the Portuguese used to rule the trading route of the Indian Ocean, the fort was strategically situated in a way that enabled soldiers to see any ships that approached the harbor.
The fort also tells a fascinating story of a quite gruesome past when the slaves under the Portuguese rule were tortured and perished from hunger and diseases. During these times, the slaves were shipped to the Persian Gulf and Arabia through the port of Mombasa.
The 16th Century was the time when cultural, commercial and political forces were budding and the Portuguese deemed it important to build a fort in the region. Fort Jesus was designed following the Italian architecture, once the works of establishing the fort started, it became a subject of battles.
Throughout the years, the fort was captured and recaptured many times changing hands between many rulers including the Omani Arabs from 1698 to 1895, then the British colonialists who transformed it into a prison. The slaves captured from different parts of Kenya were held in the torture rooms and cells in the Fort’s Prison, the Fort also had cannons built to protect it from invaders. Again, the Portuguese recaptured the fort and it was refurbished many times.
In 1858, the area was declared a national park and later in 2011, the fort was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is marked as one of the prolific structures belonging to the 16th century.
Fort Jesus was built in an era when cultural, political and commercial globalization was budding thus making the fort a monumental structure with traces of multiple modifications, showcasing interchange of many culture values. This is one of the many reasons why the Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, other reasons are as follows
- As a result of military innovations between 15th and 16th century, the Fort served as a great example of a unique type of fortification.
- The layout and form of the Fort’s structure are reflections of the renaissance architecture with geometric harmony, to maintain its original layout the fort was underwent multiple refurbishments.
For multiple reasons, Fort Jesus
Architecture of Fort Jesus Museum
Fort Jesus was designed by a Milanese architect, pt. Giovanni Battista Cairati who was the chief Architect for Portuguese possessions in the East, it was the first European – style fort constructed outside of Europe designed to resist cannon fire.
Fort Jesus is one of the finest examples of 16th Century Portuguese military architecture which has been influenced and changed by both the Omani Arabs and the British. For foreigners with intentions of controlling Mombasa Island, the fort became a vital possession.
The architecture of Fort Jesus represents the rough outline of a person lying on their back with the head towards the sea, the fort’s walls are at a height of 18 meters. Originally, the Portuguese fort had a height of 15 meters but when the Oman Aras took possession of the fort, they added 3 meters.
Fort Jesus combines Portuguese, Arab and British elements, the British and the Portuguese presence is preserved in the presence of their respective cannons. The Portuguese cannons had a range of 200 meters and are longer than the British cannons which had a range of 300 meters. Oman Arabs marked their occupancy with numerous inscriptions from the Koran on the wooden door posts and ceiling beams, the five pillars of Muslim tradition are also portrayed throughout the fort with a former meeting hall being supported by five stone pillars to the ceiling.
Some of the historical structures still standing in the fort include Oman House which was the house for sultan who governed the East African Coast and an open water Cistern.
Visiting Fort Jesus Museum
Fort Jesus is open as a museum and people can visit the museum to explore other historical structures in Mombasa such as the Omani House which used to be the residence of the Sultan, governor of the East African Coast and the island itself.
Inside Fort Jesus, you can see an exhibit of artifacts discovered from the excavations of Fort Jesus, Manda, Gade ruins and Ungwana. While taking a stroll in the museum, you can spot many artifacts, ceramics and pottery items from an era when Mombasa used to be a major trading center.
Other important places to be explored at Fort Jesus include
- A water Cistern – which was used by the Portuguese to harvest water, it is 76 feet deep.
- A Swahili Cultural Center – where the youth is trained in Swahili arts and crafts, business management classes are also offered to enable the youth to learn the skills of self- employment
- The butterfly exhibit – allows you to learn more about the biodiversity among butterflies in Mombasa and their connection to the local communities.
How to Get to Fort Jesus Museum
Fort Jesus Museum is found in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya. The fort is located approximately 490 kilometers from Nairobi City and the best to get is by use of a private vehicle or board a bus.
There are three significant bus stations where you can take a bus directly to the Fort, board a bus from Market Bus Stop or Kanisani Bus Stop to reach the museum.
You can also get to the fort by train, you can board a train from Nairobi train station to Mombasa and from there you can get to the museum by use of public transport or hire a taxi.
Opening Hours of Fort Jesus Museum
Fort Jesus Museum is one of the most visited places in Kenya and a very popular site among tourists, the museum is open from 8 am in the morning until 6 pm in the evening.
Entrance fees at Fort Jesus Museum
To visit the museum, entry fee is paid and it is as follows
- Non – Resident Adults – 1200 KES
- Non – Resident child – 600 KES
- East African Adults – 400 KES
- East African Child – 200 KES
- Kenya Citizen Adult – 200 KES
- Kenya Citizen Child – 100 KES