Fort Jesus is a historical monument with remnants of historical and cultural attractions along the Kenyan coast near Mombasa Old Town. Fort Jesus was strategically built facing the Indian Ocean for clear view of all activities at sea.
Fort Jesus was the ﬁrst European style fort constructed outside of Europe and designed to resist cannon ﬁre. The inhabitants of the Fort had faced so much turbulence from parties interested in seizing the port of Mombasa.
Brief History of the Fort Jesus
The fort is a monumental piece of architecture built in the 16th century (1593) by the Portuguese to protect their trade route to India and their interests in East Africa. Although the fort was built to secure the Portuguese safety at the Coast, it attracted hostilities from other interested parties who lived in Mombasa during its reign. These included traders from Asia and Europe and other African countries.
For example the Oman Arabs attacked the fort between 1696 and 1698. lt was re-occupied by the Portuguese and used as barracks. It changed hands nine times between 1631 and 1895 when it was taken by the British after the British Protectorate was proclaimed and converted into a prison.
On October 24, 1958, Fort Jesus was placed in the custody of the trustees of the National Museums of Kenya. Wandering the fort grounds is an insightful journey through Mombasa’s history. The museum opened in 1962 and has become a popular attraction for tourists, students and researchers.
Inside the museum, you will find an intriguing collection of archaeological artifacts from the fort, as well as Manda, Ungwana, Gede and other sites, some of which have been donated by private individuals and others that have been recovered from the shipwreck of the San Antonio de Tana that has been at the bottom of the Indian Ocean since 1697.
Today, Fort Jesus is a World Heritage site and a museum exhibiting a wide variety of coastal heritage. Having withstood years of constant battle and humid climate, Fort Jesus has retained a classic fair look with a refreshing trail of narratives behind it. It is clearly one of Kenya’s most remarkable and highly valued monuments of all time.
Fort Jesus Designer
Fort Jesus was designed by a Milanese architect, 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. Today, it 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.
Fort Jesus quickly became a vital possession for anyone with the intention of controlling Mombasa Island or the surrounding areas for trade. When the British colonised Kenya, they used it as a prison, until 1958, when they converted it into a historical monument. James Kirkman was then assigned to excavate the monument, which he did (with a large use of external historical documents) from 1958 to 1971.
The architecture of Fort Jesus represents the rough outline of a person lying on their back, with the head towards the sea. The height of the walls is 18 meters. The original Portuguese fort had a height of 15 meters, but the much taller Oman Arabs added 3 metres upon capturing the fort.
Things to see and do at Fort Jesus
Inside the fort are ancient wall paintings of ships, chameleons, fish, and soldiers in armor, completed with ochre and carbon by Portuguese sentries. View various artefacts, pottery and ceramics reflecting the various cultures that traded along the coast from the era when Mombasa served like a transit point for the slave trade and commodities, and which enjoyed regular visits by seafarers and so on. Its interior comprises of torture rooms and prison cells where slaves were held in captivity before being traded.
Within the fort compound, the “Hall of Mazrui”, where flowery spirals fade across a wall topped with wooden lintels left by the Omani Arabs, is worthy of note.
One can also view some of the historical structures that are still in existence including Oman House where the Sultan who governed the East African coast stayed. An open water cistern which was used by the Portuguese to harvest water can be seen, as well as a 76-foot deep well that was sunk by the Arabs.
The Mombasa Butterfly House recently opened to the public and has a live butterfly exhibit which presents a paradise of tropical butterflies in a natural environment, where you can learn about the biodiversity of butterflies and how it’s connected to local communities.
A Swahili Cultural Centre housed in the museum at the Fort was established in 1993 to train Kenyan youth in traditional Swahili crafts; more importantly the training also includes business management, enabling the youths the skills needed to become self employed.
Fort Jesus Mombasa Sounds & Light Shows
The fort plays host a spectacular sound and light show 3 Nights each week. Guards wearing flowing robes and brandishing flaming torches, welcome visitors into the Fort.
A choreographed show using lights, sound effects and actors retell the history of the Fort. The evening includes a candlelit dinner which is served in the Fort’s open courtyard under the stars. This wonderfully atmospheric night out is the perfect way to end the day, and learn more about the history of Mombasa.
The sound and light show can also be combined with a sunset dhow cruise on Mombasa harbor.
Fort Jesus Entry Fee
Working hours; 8.30-18.00, Monday- Friday
Adults Ksh 200
Children Ksh 100
Residents/ East Africans
Adults Ksh 400
Below 16 years Ksh 200
Adults Ksh 1200
Below 16 years Ksh 600
How to get to Fort Jesus
By road: Fort Jesus is located in Mombasa Island along Nkurumah road which is in the Coast province of Kenya. It lies a distance of about 490-km from Nairobi city about an 8 h 40 min drive via Mombasa Road.
By air: You can Fly from Nairobi Wilson to Mombasa and then drive to Fort Jesus
A Map to Fort Jesus
Fort Jesus Contacts
Attraction Type: Historic Sites, Culture
Category: Fort, Art Gallery
City / Town: Mombasa
Road / Street: Nkurumah Road
Telephone: 254 41 222 2425
254 722 943999
Entrance Fee: Yes