The Vasco da Gama Pillar, located on the shores of the Indian Ocean in Malindi, Kilifi County, is a historical marvel that has been attracting tourists for over six centuries.
Erected in 1498 by the renowned Portuguese explorer, Vasco Da Gama, the pillar stands as a testament to his pioneering journey from Europe to India via Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. On two momentous voyages between 1497 and 1502, Vasco da Gama not only landed and traded with locals along the southern African coast but also reached the shores of India on May 20, 1498.
Historical accounts suggest that Vasco da Gama constructed the pillar to aid his fellow sailors in finding their bearings towards India and also played a crucial role in promoting trade between India and Portugal. Serving as one of the oldest European cenotaphs on the East African coast, the Vasco da Gama Pillar once provided direction to those navigating the sea route to India.
This pillar, resembling a lighthouse without lights, is believed to have been visible to Portuguese explorers as they approached Malindi’s shores from the vast sea. Adjacent to the pillar stands the Portuguese Chapel which served as a place of prayer and became the final resting place for those who passed away during their voyages.
Having stood the test of time, the Vasco da Gama Pillar witnessed Malindi’s history evolve, including the British colonialists’ occupation under the British East Africa protectorate. Vasco Da Gama’s arrival in Malindi in 1498 was greeted warmly by the Sultan of Malindi, marking the beginning of connections between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, particularly India.
In the 15th Century, Portugal’s spirit of exploration spanned across the globe. King Dom Manuel of Portugal appointed Vasco da Gama in 1497 to lead a fleet of four ships on a voyage to India through the Far East. After numerous adventures, the fleet anchored off Malindi on Easter Sunday, April 15th, 1498, where they were heartily welcomed by the Sultan. In response to Vasco da Gama’s request, the Sultan provided a skilled sea captain, Ibn Majid, who guided the fleet across the vast Indian Ocean to Calicut, India.
Vasco da Gama’s favorable reception during his first visit likely led him to return to Malindi during his voyage back in 1499. On this occasion, his sailors were permitted to erect a pillar topped with a cross bearing Portugal’s Coat of Arms. Unfortunately, the presence of this Christian symbol caused dissatisfaction among the Muslim community, leading to its removal.
However, representation from the small Portuguese community, which had established a trading post in Malindi, eventually persuaded the Sultan to permit the construction of a pillar at its current location to hold the cross. This pillar, known as the original Padrao, is the sole remaining one out of several placed along the African coastline by various Portuguese seafarers.
Over time, the exposed location of the pillar led to weathering and erosion. In 1973, Captain Malcom of HMS Briton arranged for the protective concrete cone to be built, concealing the original pillar while supporting the limestone cross. This limestone was confirmed to be from Portugal upon examination.
Declared a gazette National Monument in 1935, the Vasco da Gama Pillar now falls under the watchful care of the National Museums of Kenya. NMK has undertaken various restoration efforts, including reinforcing the sea wall, paving the access road, and providing amenities like parapet walkways, an ablution block, and a pavement to ensure an enhanced tourist experience, including easy access for people with disabilities.
The Vasco da Gama Pillar is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm.
Admission Fee to the Vasco da Gama Pillar
To explore this remarkable historical landmark and gain access to four national monuments, including the Portuguese Chapel, House of Columns, and Malindi Museum, guests can acquire a single ticket at the following prices:
- Citizen adults: Ksh 100
- Citizen children: Ksh 50
- Residents adults: Ksh 100
- Residents children: Ksh 50
- Non-residents: Ksh 500 (adults) and Ksh 250 (children)