Mombasa is Kenya’s oldest and second largest city. Ever since the 12th century it has been a prosperous trading town, due to it being an island, situated strategically of the coastline of the Indian Ocean. Up to this day it is an important port in East Africa, and the city even has its own international airport.
These days the historic part of Mombasa (called Old Town) is situated on the island, while the town as a whole expanded over the years. The Nyali Bridge connects the island to the north part of town, where the beautiful residential area Nyali and the Bamburi beaches lie. A ferry connects Old Town to the south part of town, and eventually to the paradise beaches of Diani Beach.
Mombasa is – like most African cities – busy and loud. But the town definitely has flair! Since it has a rich history, it makes for an interesting visit. A new directive requires all buildings in Old Town and the Central Business District to be painted white with an Egyptian blue trim. As a result, the already beautiful old buildings will soon look picture perfect!
One of Mombasa’s most popular places to take a picture is Moi Avenue, where the so-called tusks stand. The tusks were built in 1952 to comemmorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit. Made of aluminum they form the letter M for Mombasa. As such, they mark the entrance to the heart of the city. The locals call them Pembe Za Ndovu – the Swahili word for ivory. And rightfully so; from a distance the aluminum tusks seem to be made from elephant ivory.
Another must-see is Fort Jesus on the historic island of Mombasa. This 16th century fort is on Unesco’s World Heritage List and as such is Mombasa’s most visited site. The Portuguese built the fort in 1593 to serve as their headquarter in this corner of the Indian Ocean. Between Portuguese sailors, Omani soldiers and Swahili rebellions, the fort changed hands at least nine times between 1631 and the early 1870s. Under British control the fort was used as a jail. It opened as a museum in 1960.
From Fort Jesus you walk straight into the multicultural Old Town of Mombasa. Its tapered streets and ancient architecture provide a reflection of the mix of Arab, Portuguese, Asian and British inhabitants that resided in Mombasa. The oldest mosque of Mombasa stands here. It dates all the way back to 1300. Additionally, the Mandhry Mosque in Old Town from 1570 has a minaret that contains a regionally specific ogee arch. It is an excellent example of Swahili architecture, which combines the elegant flourishes of Arabic style with the comforting, geometric patterns of African design.
Lastly, Mombasa’s spice market (west part of Old Town) is an evocative, sensory overload! Expect lots of jostling, yelling, wheeling, dealing and, of course, exotic scents. Stall upon stall offer cardamom, pepper, turmeric and curry powders. Around the corner more stalls along Langoni Road sell delicious street food.