Discovering Kenya’s Rich History: Must-See 15 Historic Sites in Kenya’s Coastal Region ( Mombasa )
Embark on a journey through time and discover the rich history of Kenya’s Coastal region and its surroundings. From ancient ruins to colonial landmarks, this coastal region of Kenya is home to a captivating array of historic sites that are just waiting to be explored. So, buckle up and get ready to be amazed, as we take you on a tour of 15 must-visit historic sites that you cannot afford to miss in and around Mombasa!
Historic Sites In Lamu County
Lamu Old Town
Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa; It’s built in coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterized by the simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors. Unlike other Swahili settlements, abandoned along the East African Coast, Lamu has been inhabited continuously for over 700 years. With a core comprising a collection of buildings on 16ha, Lamu has maintained its social and cultural integrity, as well as retaining its authentic building fabric up to the present day. The town is characterized by narrow streets and magnificent stone buildings with impressive curved doors, influenced by a unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian and European building styles. The buildings on the seafront, with their arcades and open verandas, provide a unified visual impression of the town when approaching it from the sea. The vernacular buildings are internally decorated with painted ceilings, large niches (madaka), small niches (zidaka), and pieces of Chinese porcelain.
The Lamu Fort
The construction of Lamu Fort commenced in 1813, shortly after Lamu’s victory over Pate and Mombasa in the battle of Shela. The main building task was reputedly undertaken with the cooperation of Seyyid Said, the Sultan of Oman, who was cultivating a promising new alliance with Lamu at the time. Upon its completion in about 1821, the Fort marked the southern corner of the traditional stone town and served as a garrison for Baluchi soldiers sent by the Sultan of Oman. Its protective presence encouraged new development around it. For example, it was at this time that some Lamu merchants erected the 19th-century shop front and buildings. By 1900 the Fort had become central to the community, a role which it still plays today.
Between 1910 and 1984, the Fort served as a prison for both the British colonial regime and the Kenya government, and it was handed over to the National Museums of Kenya in 1984. Today, the Fort houses a library with an excellent collection of Swahili poetry and reference material on Lamu. The courtyard is available for weddings, meetings, and theatre productions.
The Lamu house is built on the seafront, overlooks the beautiful Manda Island, and is also part of the Lamu museum. The house gives its visitors a glimpse into the traditional Swahili home setup, an example of 18th-century Swahili houses. It depicts the lifestyle that the wealthy Swahili merchants enjoyed in the olden days. It was built by a wealthy Swahili merchant who later on abandoned the house for the mainland; it was eventually acquired and renovated by the National Museums of Kenya.
The position of the site at the narrowest location on the whole island was most probably a strategy. The Takwa ruins are remnants of a once-thriving Swahili town between the 15th and 16th centuries. The unique Friday Mosque with a large pillar atop the qibla wall is among the most notable features. This pillar is believed to symbolize the burial of a Sheikh below the wall.
Takwa’s position/location with shallow waters must have been of considerable importance, especially during its peak, when many of the sails that came into view were likely to be hostile. Therefore access to the site must have been primarily from the shallow channel, which could only admit vessels of shallow draft. Takwa’s eventual abandonment in the 17th century was due to the salinization of the once-fresh water and endless fighting between Takwa and the Pate people. These ruins were gazetted as a National Monument in 1982.
German Post Office
German nationals Clement Denhardt and G. A. Fisher first made contact with the Lamu hinterland in the late 1870s. They soon struck a friendship with Ahmed Abdullah Simba, the Sultan of Witu, who at the time was having problems with the rulers of Lamu and Zanzibar and so welcomed a new ally. Shortly afterward, Witu became a German protectorate. This building was the first German Post Office ever established along the East African Coast. The Post office was established on November 22nd, 1888, by the Germans, led by Clement Denhardt. At the time, the communications and trade contacts for the German Protectorate in Witu could be served through Lamu, a well-established town with links to the outside world. The Post office operated for more than two years before its closure on March 3rd, 1891, after the withdrawal of the German settlement in Witu.
The Siyu Fort
The Siyu Fort is the only Fort around the coastal region constructed by a local resident. It is located in the coastal province in the Pate Island area of Lamu district, opposite Siyu town. The Fort was built by one of Siyu’s leaders, Bwana Mataka (Mohammed Ishaq bin Mbarak bin Mohamed bin Oman Famau), in the 19th century to safeguard Siyu residents from Omani Arab domination. He also rebuilt much of the town.
Historic Sites To see In Mombasa County
The Portuguese built Fort Jesus in 1593. The site chosen was a coral ridge at the entrance to the harbour. The Fort was designed by an Italian Architect and Engineer, Joao, Batista Cairato. Fort Jesus was built to secure the safety of Portuguese living on the East Coast of Africa. It has had a long history of hostilities among the interested parties that used to live in Mombasa. Between 1631 and 1875, the Fort was won and lost nine times by the nations contesting control of Kenya. On October 24th, 1958, Fort Jesus was declared a National Park and became a Museum in 1962. The Fort is now an important historical landmark in the East African region.
Mombasa Old Town Covers an area of 72 hectares (180 acres) and is inhabited by a mix of local, Arab, Asian, Portuguese, and British settlers. These groups’ various social, political, religious, and economic activities have created a distinct character and culture that has come to define this old town. The visible aspect of this unique character is a collection of historical buildings dating from the 18th century, which combines African, Arabic, and European influences. Many of these buildings still exist, with beautifully carved doors and elegantly styled balconies attached to their turn-of-the-century facades.
The African Hotel
The Africa Hotel Located in the old town, the African hotel was built over 100 years ago and was the 1st hotel in Kenya and began its operations in 1901. Visitors are invited inside to view the architecture, plus a photo gallery that captures those times. The Africa Hotel hosted business travelers and government officials in its glory days.
The history of Leven House dates back to 1824. It is a fact that many of its occupants were important people and institutions. The house stands out due to the distinct architectural work different from the traditional housing structures that make up Mombasa’s old town. Leven House was named after HMS Leven, a British naval survey ship that docked at the Coast in 1824. The house was later gazetted as a national monument under the Mombasa Old Town Conservation Area. And in 1997, the National Museums of Kenya took over the ownership of the house. It now acts as the headquarters of museums on the Coast.
Historic Sites To See In Kilifi County
Vasco da Gama Pillar
Constructed in 1498 in Malindi, Kilifi County, Vasco da Gama Pillar is one of the oldest European monuments in Africa. It is named after Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer. The coral column is topped by a cross made of Lisbon stone, which almost certainly dates from the explorer’s time. Impressively Standing on a cliff, the pillar was a remake of the first pillar and was erected as a navigational aid.
Gede ruins are the remains of a Swahili town that traces its origin to the twelfth century,
but It was rebuilt with new town walls in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. At its peak during the fifteenth century, the town had numerous inhabitants and was considered wealthy. This enormous wealth is evidenced by the presence of multiple ruins, comprising a conglomeration of mosques, a magnificent palace, and houses, all nestled in 45 acres of a primeval forest, at its peak during the fifteenth century. But the last families left the town in the first half of the seventeenth century. Sir John Kirk, a British resident of Zanzibar, 1884 first visited it in. Over forty years later, in 1927, it was gazetted as a Historical Monument. Two years later, in 1929, it was declared a “protected monument,” In the late thirties, the Public Works Department carried out work on preserving its crumbling walls. Soon after the repairs in 1948, it was declared a National Park, and an Archaeologist was appointed as the warden.
Jumba la Mtwana is a picturesque ruined village that is thought to have been built in the fourteenth century but abandoned early in the fifteenth century. The principal inhabitants were Muslims. The village contained four mosques, a tomb, and four houses within this area. These houses include the House of the Cylinder, The House of the Kitchen, and The House of the Many.
Pools, The clearance and excavation of the area was first done in 1972 by James Kirkman, and in 1982, Jumba la Mtwana was gazetted as a National Monument.
More resources: Museums of Kenya