Website Category: European Colonial Influences
Area: 0.1 km2
Criteria: (ii) interchange of values (v) interaction with the environment
Location and Values: Fort Jesus is located at Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. It is one of the three outstanding early Portuguese forts built around the coast of Africa in the 16th century and now included on the world heritage list (others are at Mazagan, Morocco, and the Island of Mozambique). It was built between 1593 and 1596, and features high plastered walls built of coral rock, and a peculiar angular shape designed so that any assailant trying to climb any of the walls could easily come under fire from one of the bastions. It was kept under Portuguese control for around 100 years, falling to Omani Arabs in 1698, and buildings within the Fort reflect a series of such changes over the centuries. The walls and surrounding moat enclose an area of approximately 150m x 150m.
Slideshow of Fort Jesus, Mombasa: The slideshow begins with views from outside the Fort, showing the Fort’s situation on the rocky low cliffs of Mombasa Island, with its imposing walls, bastions and crenulations. Entering the fort over the (now filled) moat, the photographic tour goes onto the ramparts, looking out to sea and down into the interior of the Fort where the Hall of the Mazrui has beautiful stone benches and 18th century inscriptions. Nearby, elaborately carved Swahili doors are a legacy of the Omani period, while inside one of the rooms is a panel of Portuguese paintings, little more than graffiti really, depicting ships, fish, men in armour etc, made by bored soldiers.
Within the central area of the Fort a modern building with an arched veranda provides space for a small museum (with a line of canons outside), where a British army garrison was once housed. Inside, fragments of Chinese porcelain and other items recovered from shipwrecks and dating from the Portuguese era are displayed. Nearby lie the ruins of a small Portuguese chapel, and other buildings, now reduced to low stone walls over their foundations. As a curiosity, the wall-mounted hole-in-the-wall toilet facilities are interesting, as they clearly ensured that the interior of the Fort was maintained in a sanitary condition in days past.
Slideshow of Fort Jesus, Mombasa:
Comments and Impressions: Fort Jesus is an impressive place in the heart of old Mombasa. Listed as a world heritage site in 2011, it would benefit from additional signage and interpretation facilities otherwise the services of a local guide are necessary to get the most from a visit.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Fort Jesus on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing other world heritage sites around Africa. It is worth taking a few minutes to explore the rest of Mombasa Island, the port and its surroundings by panning in and out, and looking to left and right at high resolution. That way, you’ll get a strong sense of ‘context’, understanding how this place is situated within the wider contemporary landscape.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details