A Guide to FORT JESUS at Any Time

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This is Kenya’s oldest building and was a fortress built by the Portuguese in the years 1593-1596.

The designer, Battista Cairati, wanted a building that can be the final battleground for soldiers as they die to the last man in keeping off invaders.

Sure enough, the building demonstrates the might of the then Portuguese Army which guided its subjects that ruled trade routes of the Indian Ocean.

The UNESCO declared this Fort a World Heritage Site in 2011 because the UN body considered it a perfect example of the 16th-century Portuguese military fortification.

The Fort’s layout and form are derived from the Renaissance architecture which emphasized on geometry, symmetry, and regularity of parts. The tenets of Renaissance architecture are all over Fort Jesus, including the Column and Round Arch and the dome.

column and round arch elements of the Italian Renaissance- Fort Jesus (Image source: UNESCO)
The Dome Element of Italian Renaissance-Fort Jesus (Image source: UNESCO)

Although the design of the building was based on Renaissance architecture, the manpower and resources for aiding construction works came from the nearby Mombasa.

For this reason, it is fair to argue that the Fort’s design is as assemblance of architectural philosophies of Arabs, Africans, and Italians.

Overall, the Fort was designed to look like a standing man to symbolize strength and courage. Despite this, the Fort was lost and recaptured at least nine times between 1631 and 1895.

During this period, the Portuguese engaged in war with Arabs and British that ruled East Africa Coast Line. In particular, the Omani Arabs engaged in a two-year siege of the Fort which at that time had 50 to 70 Portuguese soldiers and loyal Arabs, from 1696 to 1698.

This capture marked the end of the Portuguese occupation of the Coast, even though they briefly captured it again between 1728 and 1729. The Omanis fully captured it in the late 1700s, and used as a barracks.

In the same way as the Portuguese, the Arabs lost control of the Fort to the British rule who converted it into a prison.

The property covers an area of 2.36 hectares and is currently a popular destination for tourists, especially local tourists that are enthusiastic about Kenyan history.

What’s more, the Fort currently serves as a ‘campus’ for varieties of research programs and is also home to a Conservation Lab.

 

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