My boda boda driver stops in a shady spot, next to a cart full of coconuts, but I resist the temptation. After I pay the driver, I walk to the old walls, once dark yellow but now mostly blackened, up the curved entrance way and enter through an arched gate with a Portuguese inscription above it. I am in Fort Jesus, built at the very end of the 16th century and designed by an Italian architect. When I reach the rectangular courtyard, I see several wooden doors with carved ornaments: Omani doors, which I will see more often in this fort (and indeed, in the old town, too). Fort Jesus was the first fort built by a European power on the Indian Ocean, and it was attacked, conquered, modified by the locals, the Omanis, and eventually, the British over the centuries. It was used as a prison until just before Kenya reached independence, turned into a national park, and recognized as a World Heritage site in 2011.
This mix of influences can be seen all over the fort. I walk up towards the San Matias bastion on the northeast side of Fort Jesus. I find a cannon and barracks, and walk down to the courtyard again. I descend the passage of the arches, with arches overhead, the walls covered by bright green mosses. All the way down, I find a small opening in the wall, through which I can see the Indian Ocean. Close by is the passage of the steps, which is similar, but without the arches above. I climb up, walk through the ruins of the Captain's House, see the backside of the Audience Hall, and walk up the ramparts. This is the gun platform, the east side of Fort Jesus, the side facing the sea. When seen from above, Fort Jesus resembles a lying man, and this is the head of that man.
Walking past San Mateus bastion of Fort Jesus, I come to a room in which I see the Portuguese wall paintings. These were done by creative soldiers, or sailors, on the wall of the San Mateus bastion on the south side of the fort, and were restored in this building. They depict mostly ships, both Portuguese and local, as well as human figures, a heart with an arrow, and animals. Next door, I enter the audience hall, where dark wooden beams have verses of the koran calligraphed into them: this clearly is the Omani influence. I visit the museum, housed in a long building with an arched gallery. It holds many artefacts recovered from Portuguese merchant ships that were sunk in the nearby sea, and offer an interesting insight into the dealings of the Portuguese, with wares from as far as China. Across the courtyard, I visit the Omani house, which has been restored and filled with objects from Oman, to learn more about this regional power which has been active on the east coast of Africa for centuries. It once again underlines the rich heritage of Fort Jesus.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Fort Jesus (Kenya). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Fort Jesus. Read more about this site.