Fort Jesus (Portuguese: Forte Jesus de Mombaça)
Jesus, located on the edge of a coral ridge overlooking the entrance to the Old
Port of Mombasa, was built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 to protect their
trade route to India and their interests in East Africa, this was after
the Portuguese had been masters of the East African coast for nearly an hundred
During this time they had as main base an
unfortified factory in Malindi. The Turkish raids of 1585 and 1588 were
decisive for the Portuguese to decide the construction of the fort in Mombasa.
On 11 April 1593 the fortress was dedicated and named "Fortaleza de Jesus
de Mombaça" by Mateus de Mendes de Vasconcelos (the then captain of the
coast, that resided at Malindi). The fort was completed in 1596, the plan was a
quadrilater with four bastions: S. Felipe, S. Alberto, S. Mathias and S.
Mateus. The main gate was near S. Mathias bastion. It was designed by an
Italian architect, Giovanni Battista Cairati. Mombasa became Portugal’s main
trading centre along the East Coast of Africa.
Relation between the Portuguese and the Sultan of Mombasa (who were the rulers
of Mombasa at the time of the fort's construction) began to deteriorate after
the departure of the first captain Mateus de Mendes de Vasconcelos. In 1626,
Muhammad Yusif, who had received education in Goa and that was baptized as Dom
Jeronimo Chingulia, was made Sultan.
On 16 August 1631, the Sultan Dom Jeronimo Chingulia entered the fort and took
the Portuguese by surprise, he killed the Portuguese captain, Pedro Leitão de
Gamboa, and massacred the whole Portuguese population of Mombasa (45 men, 35
women and 70 children). A Portuguese expedition was sent from Goa to retake the
fort, but after two months of siege (10 January 1632-19 March 1632) they
abandoned the enterprise. On 16 May the Sultan abandoned Mombasa and became a
pirate. On 5 August 1632 a small Portuguese
force under the captain Pedro Rodrigues Botelho, that had remained at Zanzibar,
reoccupied the fort.
In February 1661 the Sultan of Oman sacked the Portuguese town of Mombasa but
did not attack the fort. It was in 1696 that a large Omani Arabs expedition
reached Mombasa, from 13 March 1696 the fort was under siege, the fort had a
garrison of 50-70 Portuguese soldiers and several hundred loyal coast Arabs.
The fort was relieved in December 1696 by a Portuguese expedition, but in the
following months a plague killed all the Portuguese of the garrison and by 16
June 1697 the defence of the fort was in the hand of Sheikh Daud of Faza with
17 of his family, 8 African men and 50 African women.
On 15 September 1697 a Portuguese ship arrived with some reinforcement and also
at the end of December 1697 another ship came from Goa with a few soldiers.
After another year of siege, in December 1698, the Portuguese garrison was
reduced to the Captain, 9 men and a priest (Fr. Manoes de Jesus). After a siege
of two years and nine months the Omani Arabs took the fort. They could do this
because the garrison was reduced to nine soldiers the others were death by
disease. On the morning of 13 December 1698 the Omani Arabs did the decisive
attack and took the fort, just seven days later a Portuguese relief fleet arrived at Mombasa, but it was too late. With
the conquest of Fort Jesus the whole coast of Kenya and Tanzania with Zanzibar
and Pemba fell to the Omani Arabs.
The Portuguese retook the fort in 1728, because
the African soldiers in the fort mutined against the Omanis, the Sultan of Pate
to which was offered the fort handed the fort over to the Portuguese on 16
March 1728. In April 1729, the Mombasans revolted against the Portuguese and
put under siege the garrison that was forced to surrender on 26 November 1729.
The Fort is today know as one of the best examples of 16th century Portuguese
*Giovanni Battista Cairati: born in Milan, he
was a leading military architect under the service of King Philip II of Spain,
which was also King of Portugal, he worked at Malacca, Mannar, Ormuz, Muscat,
Damão, Bassein and Mombasa. He probably never saw completed Fort Jesus, because
he died in Goa in 1596
The legal protection system
for the property is adequate: Fort Jesus, Mombasa, was originally designated a
National Park in 1958, the protected area included the Fort itself and a
100-meter strip around it; today it falls under the National Museums and
Heritage Act, 2006. The buffer zone has been formally declared a Conservation
Area, however, a discrepancy between the size of the designated Conservation
Area and the size of the Buffer Zone has not been amended yet.
management plan has been put in place for the property with the National
Museums of Kenya acting as the key stakeholder in its conservation and
Long-term conservation and management issues
include the protection of the Fort from urban encroachment and inappropriate
design in the areas adjacent to the Fort and in the surrounding Mombasa Old
Town, which require the reinforcement of dedicated management structures and
staff, control of erosion of the rocks along the sea coast, and the ongoing
maintenance and conservation of the Fort itself.
Fort Jesus is now a popular destination for
foreign and local tourists. As well as a tourist destination, the Fort is
important as a host for numerous research programs, a Conservation Lab, an
Education Department, and an Old Town Conservation Office.