I love strolling through Mombasa’s Old Town, located on the south-east side of the island, known for its narrow streets and atmospheric alleys, reminiscent of its diverse and historical past with different architectural styles and designs giving a sense of perspective of its previous inhabitants.
A rich cultural melting point, Mombasa Old Town is home to a mixture of communities, among them Arabs, Asians and Swahilis, which can be seen in the various styles of architecture as well as the shops in the area.
At the entrance of the ‘Old Town’ lies a massive Swahili style brass Coffee Pot with a cup, built by and gifted to Mombasa from Burhan Ali Taher in 1988.
Behind it lies Fort Jesus, a 16th century fort built by the Portuguese to designs by Giovanni Battista Cairati to protect the port of Mombasa. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and opened as a museum in 1960.
In terms of design it was built to mirror a person lying on their back and has Portuguese, Arabic and British influences, each from different times of rule during the different eras. It is definitely worth a visit to see the magnificent architecture and to see some of the artefacts they have preserved there.
As you stroll down Sir Mbarak Hinnawy Road across from Fort Jesus, down the narrow lane, you will discover a treasure trove of history. Here is Kenya’s first hotel built in 1901 called the ‘Africa Hotel.’
It is two storeys high with twelve bedrooms all with a sea view. Although now obstructed, in the early 1900s there was an uninterrupted view of the sea!
You can see some exhibits and photos inside the building with the entry charge being used towards preservation of the building. Other points of interest to stake out are the post office and police station!
Down the narrow alleys in ‘Old Town’ there are plenty of shops selling items ranging from curios, souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, perfumes to antiques.
They are worth a visit if you want to buy gifts and are priced well, with room to haggle a little.
As you wander the streets you will notice various 19th century wooden carved doors with Swahili style art adorning them on the buildings.
If you look up, you will also notice carved lattice wood balconies and wooden windows on the buildings. This is a Swahili traditional house design from the 19th century.
Every now and then as you peer down the alleys you get glimpses of the aqua blue hues of the sea – a reminder of your proximity to the old port, which shaped Old Town and its colourful past. The Port served dhows from India, Arabian Gulf and Far East.
After a hot day of walking, be sure to hydrate with coconut water from one of the various vendors found on the road side. They are the best thirst quenchers!
Have you visited Mombasa’s Old Town or have memories of it? Let me know in the comments xx