Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fort Jesus: Italian, Portuguese, British, Omani, or Kenyan?

The title of this post is kind of a trick question - I would consider Fort Jesus all of the above!

Visiting Fort Jesus was one of my favorite parts of visiting Mombasa, and I'm finally getting around to documenting it! It's one of those sites that you would know is historic even if all you did is walk past it. For about $10 per person, we enjoyed a private guided tour. If you visit, I recommend going earlier in the morning. When we started, we were the only ones there.

Fort Jesus was built in the 16th century and stands as a testament to the history of the Swahili coast in the last few hundred years. It was originally built by an Italian by order of the Portuguese King, then was captured and recaptured through the ages by the Sultan of Mombasa, the British, the Portuguese again, Oman, the local population again, the British again during the colonial period, and finally Kenya after independence.

The Portuguese named it Fort Jesus, in part because the architecture was modeled after the Renaissance ideal of the human form (see above). I get the symbolism, but to me, personally, the chosen pose looks like the fort is busting a move.

The inner courtyards of Fort Jesus were filled with constant reminders of its proximity to the Indian Ocean. An entire (apparently young) humpback whale skeleton was on display (pictured above), and traditional anchors (including the one below I thought looked like a cartoonish baby elephant face) were scattered throughout the exhibits.

I was amazed at how freely we were allowed to roam at the fort, not only in the museum but on the walls and grounds in general. At many historical sites that ancient, I would expect more areas to be restricted.

Fun fact: I can't remember its name, but this majestic tree right outside the fort apparently treats malaria. Good to know!

There were also some cool cannons that had held up to the ages and the elements with varying degrees of success. I snapped photos of the some of the nicer ones (Scottish crown and Arabic calligraphy, respectively):

There was also a tiny but interesting museum in the Fort Jesus courtyard with a diverse collection of artifacts, including Chinese pottery and ceramics and traditional instruments with Arabic calligraphy (ignore the tourist reflection):

Another big draw for history nerds are the wall drawings and writings. We saw some ancient, preserved Arabic text and some unusual depictions of everything from maritime trade to deformed human figures!

At the end of the day, I would describe Fort Jesus as a must-see in Kenya for history nerds and a must-see in Mombasa for all.

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