Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city. With a long history that dates back for centuries, its original Arabic name was Manbasa and In Kiswahili, it’s called “Kisiwa Cha Mvita”, meaning “Island of War”. This apt name reflects the turbulent history that Mombasa has gone through.
Because of its location on the Indian Ocean, Mombasa has been attracting traders and invaders for centuries. Initially, people came from other African countries Persia, Arabia, Portugal and Britain. Mombasa has been a port and trading centre since its inception, trading in many items including glass, brass, copper, iron and rhino horn which have passed though Mombasa harbour for centuries. Originally inhabited by Bantu people, the citywas visited by Jordanians in 6th century, Persians in the 9th and 10th century and thereafter Arabs. During this period, Arabs and Persians used the Kenyan coast as a popular trading route and Mombasa established itself as a commercial centre and docking point for anyone sailing in the region. The influence of these Arab traders are reflected in Mombasa’s architecture through grand houses, monuments and mosques which is still seen today.
As well as a trading centre, Mombasa also attracted numerous foreign invaders and hostility who did all that they could to establish their influence. The Portuguese, the ferocious Zimba tribe, and the Omanis have all laid claim to Mombasa since the 12th century.
By the 15th century, Mombasa had become a sophisticated city with trade routes to China, Persia, and India. The Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, discovered the city at around this time. He was on a voyage around Africa in search of an ocean route to India. After his discovery, the Portuguese returned to attack the city and after several years of invasion, the Portuguese eventually overtook the Arabs and began to rule Mombasa. It was the Portuguese who built Fort Jesus. From this impressive fort, they then dominated the entrance to the old harbour for the next hundred years, between 1593 and 1698.
The Arabs made several attempts to regain their influence, but were not successful. The Portuguese has close connections with their Indian colony in Goa who helped provide supplies and manpower.
In March 1696, the Portuguese were finally defeated in the siege of Fort Jesus. After fierce fighting for many months, the Portuguese and Indian soldiers eventually gave in to Arab rule.
Rivalry between competing Omani leaders who ruled over Mombasa and its environs, led to a decline in trading along the coast and Mombasa. In 1822, the Mazruis were
defeated and Mombasa fell under the ruleof the Omani leader, Bey Saidi Sultan Sayyid Said (whose remains are still buried in Mombasa today). Two years later, the British warship HMS Leven arrived in Mombasa which began another era in Mombasa’s turbulent history.
Answering to the appeals of the Mazruis, the commander, Captain Owen, agreed to declare the city a British protectorate, in return for a promise from the Mazruis to abolish slavery.During this period, Mombasa was ruled by the Sultan, and during this time, the slavetrade prospered, making those who dealt with salve enormously rich. Eventually, the British pressurised the Sultan to end the practice of slavery and in 1845, he was forced into a treaty that severely restricted this activity. In 1886, Britain and Germany, drew up an agreement which gave the territories of Kenya and Uganda to the British while Tanganyika (Tanzania) came under the rule of Germany. In 1888 to the Imperial British East Africa Company set up its headquarters in Mombasa. This became the starting point of Kenya’s colonisation by the British, which would continue until Kenya gained independence in 1963. By the late 1800s Mombasa became the base of exploration for several British expeditions who were keen to venture deep into Africa’s interior.
1895 was the year that British rule of Mombasa became official. They leased a stretch of the coast, including the port city, from the Sultan of Zanzibar. Officially the coastal strip of Mombasa still belonged to Zanzibar and it remained this way until it became a newly independent Kenya in 1963.
The British at this time had enormous influence in the world due to its Empire, which covered more than a quarter of the globe. The British completed a railway in 1901 which stretched from Mombasa to Uganda which affirmed Mombasa’s importance, as
East Africa’s most important and valuable port .
Today, Mombasa is one of Africa’s major ports. Built on a 15 sq km island, it’s surrounded by a natural harbour. The coastline that runs north and south of the city are renowned for their beautiful white sandy beaches and tourist resorts. Within the city itself, there are many opportunities which you can explore and discover. The Arab and Indian influences still remain and the culture all along the coast is very different from the rest of Kenya.
Remnants of slave trade can also still be seen today around the town. Fort Jesus still contains cells where the slaves were held, and there are various artifacts from that era.
WHERE TO STAY
Malindi has a beautiful long white sandy beach that stretches for several miles on the north coast. Some stylish resorts aimed at a mainly Italian clientele offer sports diving, discos, dhow trips. etc. Malindi is on a smaller scale than Diani which is found on the south coast.
BKenya Recommended Hotels in Mombasa and Nyali
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