“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same. Even smells the same.” These might be the words quoted by F. Scott Fitzgerald but to me these are the words I carry along with me every time I take a stroll down the streets of Mombasa Old Town.
I was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya. Mombasa is the city of salt and of spice, of dreams and of battles, of poetry, of seafaring stories and wave upon wave of traders from far away lands. ‘It does not reveal the great secret it holds,’ wrote the classical Swahili poet Muyaka. ‘Even those who are well informed do not comprehend it.
Mombasa is a city on the coast of Kenya and the country’s second largest city after the capital Nairobi. Mombasa has more in common to Dar es Salam or Zanzibar than Nairobi – its blend of Arabia, India and Africa can be intoxicating. Located on the eastern coastline of Kenya bordering the Indian Ocean, the city is a popular destination for its beautiful beaches offering diverse marine life, world-class hotels and a friendly atmosphere.
My city is a place of many faces from the muttered chants breezing from the Hindu temple to the ecstatic passion of call to the Muslim prayer, its one of the places in the world which is full of history. Across from the white sandy beaches is Mombasa Old Town, sitting on the edge of the sea and renowned for its narrow streets, traditionally carved doors, its ornate balconies and its cultural diversity – this is an area in my hometown where I can take a stroll day after day, year after year and it will look and feel the same way. It is a feeling of culture and history.
The aspect of this unique character is a collection of historical buildings dating back to the 18th century which combine African, Arabic and European influences. Many of these buildings still exist, in beautifully carved doors as well as elegantly styled balconies attached to their turn of their century facades.
You can’t forget your camera to capture the uniqueness of this once ruled Portuguese town that attracts so many visitors year after year – history lovers will be in absolute awe. While taking a stroll down the narrow streets, one can stop by the many shops that sell antiques, souvenirs and spices or dine and have some traditional coffee at one my favourite spots – Jahazi Coffee House, a place that reflects the culture of coastal communities in East Africa.
One can’t leave the Old Town without visiting the famous Fort Jesus. The fort was built in 1593 – 1596 by the Portuguese and is one of Mombasa’s top tourist attractions. Italian architect designed the structure, which is one of the world’s finest examples of 16th century Portuguese military architecture. Exhibits include a vast collection of ceramics and pottery reflecting the various cultures that traded along the coast. Fort Jesus has many battlements and ruined buildings within the compound, including Omani House, built in the late 18th century, which houses Omani jewellery and displays on Swahili life.
“But perhaps the most beautiful and admirable thing about this quaint coastal town, is its resilience and daring will to survive.” – The Agoora Team.
Cities by the docks always attract the best character, and Old Town Mombasa comes from all over the world.