Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus

Location: Nkrumak Rd, Mombasa Map

Tel. 041 2225 934

Open: 8am- 6pm daily

Constructed: 1593


Description of Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus was constructed in 1593 on the orders of king of Philip II of Spain also known as king Philip I of Portugal. It is located on the strategic grounds and served in defence of the ships stationed in the harbor. Through its long and bloody history the citadel switched ownership between nine forces in the region. Today it holds a museum. Among other things you can see remains of a military Portuguese ship.


Although the Portuguese first appeared in East Africa at the end of the 15th century, their presence there grew only gradually. The Portuguese colonies were constantly attacked by the Turks who dominated the region. The impetus for the construction of a modern fortress in Mombasa was the Turkish raids of 1585 and 1589. As a result, in 1593, the five-tower Fort Jesus was founded in Mombasa, and by 1596 the Italian architect Giovanni-Battista Kairati completed its construction. The fort was built from local coral on a cliff near the harbor, which was visited by Portuguese warships and merchant ships.

Mombasa, as the stronghold of the Portuguese presence in East Africa, throughout the 17th century was at the center of constant hostilities. It was first captured by the local Sultan Yusuf bin Hassan (who had previously been baptized as Geronim Shinguuli) in 1631. The Sultan killed the Portuguese commandant and killed the entire Portuguese population of Mombasa, including 70 children. The city, and with it Fort Jesus, passed from hand to hand nine times. Among other things, the fort, whose walls successfully withstood the fire of the then artillery, withstood an almost three-year siege of the Omani forces in 1696-1698. The entire garrison of the fortress perished (not so much from enemy fire as from diseases), and the last surviving defender lured the enemy soldiers to the powder magazine and exploded with them.

In 1728, the Portuguese managed to return briefly to Mombasa, but their domination did not last long. A year later, without waiting for reinforcements from the mother country, Fort Jesus fell again and the power in East Africa passed to the Turks for a century and a half. Since 1837, the fort was used as a barracks. However, in 1875, Fort Jesus was attacked by the British gunboats Nassau and Rifleman. After an artillery duel, the fort was taken by storm, the era of British rule in East Africa began. In 1895, Kenya was proclaimed a British colony.

Under the British, Fort Jesus turned into a prison for especially dangerous criminals for 60 years. He performed this function almost until the recognition of Kenya’s independence, and only on October 24, 1958 received the status of a national park. After excavations at the fort, a museum was opened. In 2011, the 35th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee included Fort Jesus on the World Heritage List.



Fort Jesus covers an area of ​​2.36 hectares, in shape approaching a square with a side of 150 meters. In accordance with the spirit of the times, the original construction of the fort reflected the principles of Renaissance architecture with its focus on the proportions of the human body as an example of harmony. Frommer's guidebook calls the fort the best work of Kairati, comparing a fort dug into a coral rock with a human torso, four bastions with hands, and an advanced fortification made outside the walls with his head. The whole structure was aimed, firstly, at defense by small forces, and secondly, at hiding the insignificance of these forces from the enemy.

After the Muslims finally conquered the fort at the end of the 17th century, its restructuring began. The church was destroyed, a 23-meter-deep well was dug, where sea water used for washing was accumulated. The Arabs built the 15-meter-high walls of the fort another three meters in height. Nevertheless, the original architecture was largely preserved, and so much so that during the restoration of 1990 an untouched grave of a Portuguese soldier was discovered in one of the walls. During the restoration, materials are used that correspond to those used for the construction of Giovanni-Battista Kairati - petrified coral and lime mortar. The moat along the walls of the fort, distant from the sea, is currently filled up, but the condition of the walls and towers is assessed as good.

In the central part of the fort, in a more modern building, which previously served as a barracks for soldiers of the British garrison, there is a museum, among the exhibits of which are shards of china and other finds from sunken ships of the Portuguese rule. Older buildings in the interior of the fort are almost destroyed, among the best-preserved structures are the ruins of a Portuguese chapel.