Mombasa (Kenya)

Mombasa (kenya)

Mombasa is Kenya’s largest port city, located on the east coast of Africa, on the shores of the Indian Ocean. The city is the economic, commercial and tourist center of the region.

The city is also famous for its beautiful beaches, where you can relax and enjoy the warm Indian Ocean. Mombasa is also known for its rich cultural heritage, including museums, galleries and craft stores where you can buy authentic works of local artisans.

Mombasa is also the starting point for many safaris in Kenya, as it is close to several famous national parks such as East Tsavo National Park and West Tsavo National Park.

Mombasa has a long history and is one of the oldest ports in the world. The city retains numerous historical monuments, such as Fort Jezus, built by the Portuguese in 1593, and the ancient mosque of Fort Mandani, built in 1570.

History of Mombasa

In maritime geography, until 1860, there was a reference to a mention by Ptolemy (87 – 165) that in 80, the sailor Diogenes, returning from India, was carried away by a storm to the coast of East Africa. This is the reason why Mombasa guides are proud to say that “Diogenes is the author of the first guidebook to Mombasa. The seafarer Diogenes and the famous ancient Greek philosopher of the same name, who in fact lived four centuries earlier, are identified. No, it was not like that, historians have established. Diogenes the navigator only retold oral stories about the wonderful coral island of Mombasa, which he had heard from Arab sailors. No archaeological traces of the city that existed there at that time have been found. But the information about it from the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi from 1151 is quite reliable. But Kenyan historians assure that the city is much older. It appeared around 900 and its first name in Swahili is Kisiva Cha Mwita, which means “island of war”. Since the middle of the twelfth century, Arab sailors report Mombasa as a large and independent trading center (apparently, the island waged wars for independence) with ivory, iron ore and African gold as well as millet, sesame and coconuts as the main commodities in its markets. Often these goods were simply exchanged for spices, silk and other fabrics imported from India, pottery and tea from China. During the Middle Ages, ships from other African countries, the Middle East, India and China were already regularly appearing at the port of Mombasa. The famous scholar and traveling merchant from Morocco, Ibn Battuta (1304-1377) visited Mombasa in 1331 and described it as a prosperous Muslim city with many mosques, where the inhabitants, according to his testimony, wear gold jewelry and have two or three stories houses of quality.

When Vasco da Gama (1460 or 1469-1524) arrived in 1498 on his voyage to India with his ships, Mombasa was under Portuguese rule as were several other East African coastal towns. Four times the Portuguese burned and sacked the city before it was subdued. With plans to make Mombasa the capital of their East African territories, the Portuguese built a strong fortress here in 1593 that they named Fort Jesus and erected many buildings and brought Catholicism to Mombasa. From the middle of the XVII century the Portuguese in Mombasa began to worry the rulers of the Sultanate of Oman, until in 1699, Imam Sultan ibn Seif finally expelled from the island of “infidels”, knocking them out in December 1698 from the fortress. The city began to be ruled by the sultan’s viceroys who were at least partly of Arab origin. The Portuguese did not give up completely and there was another short period of Portuguese rule in Mombasa from 12 March 1728 to 21 September 1729. The African-Arabic dynasty of the Mazrui, however, rebelled against the dictates of Zanzibar in the early 19th century, which by then was the seat of the Sultan of Oman. In 1824 Mazrui recognized Britain’s protectorate over Mombasa. The Sultanate responded in 1828 with aggression from the sea. The war lasted until 1837 and ended in victory for Zanzibar. The slave trade also took place in the markets of Mombasa during the period of Arab rule. Beginning in the 1870s, the East African territory became the subject of local wars and negotiations between the European powers, mainly Germany and Great Britain. In 1890, the two countries concluded the Treaty of Helgoland, not entirely legitimate under international law, which recognized Mombasa as a British protectorate, but from 1895, when Kenya became a de jure British colony, this status was extended to Mombasa.

In 1897-1901 the British built a railroad (across the causeway) from Mombasa to Lake Victoria and laid a parallel line of communication. In 1906, they moved the colony’s capital from Mombasa to Nairobi, and a year later prohibited slavery. In December 1963, Kenya gained independence, but British companies did not leave the country, which only benefited it. The Mombasa – Uganda railway line has branched out considerably and today you can get from Mombasa (with transfers) to any part of the continent. The main share of Mombasa’s railway hub is not passenger, but freight traffic. They begin and end at the city’s two deep-water ports: Mombasa (Old Port), where ships with regional connections are based, and Kilindini (New Port), which receives container ships, tankers, refrigerators, ocean-going cruise ships and warships. During World War II it was one of the main bases of the British Navy. The port is also used on lease by Uganda, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In terms of cargo turnover Kilindini is the second in Africa after the Port of Cape Town (South Africa), in 2010 it was 5.4 million tons. It exports coffee, tea, refined oil products, cement, hides and skins, meat and meat products, canned pineapples, spices, sisal and other traditional African goods. Imports: oil, various equipment, agricultural machinery and other vehicles, metals. In recent years, Kilindini Port has greatly expanded its container terminals, switched to electronic processing of all information, and ship processing time has been greatly reduced. The city’s industrial area is concentrated around the port. Many East African highways converge in Mombasa. The Makupa Dam in the north, the New Nyali Bridge in the northeast and the Likani Ferry in the south extend them to the mainland.

In the second half of the XX century Europeans made another discovery of Mombasa, or rather the possibility of its development: the nearest shores with snow-white beaches under the canopy of baobabs and palm trees makes sense to develop as resorts. Kenya was all for it. An additional important factor in choosing a resort near Mombasa – natural conditions: bathing areas are separated from the rest of the ocean by coral reefs, and close to the resort villages are a lot of protected areas and wildlife reserves. There are beaches in Mombasa itself.

Mombasa today

Mombasa has long been known for its architectural sights, especially the Old Town with its bizarre mixture of African, Arabic and European architecture. One of the most colorful and lively places in Mombasa, a place of communication and a generator of all the city news is the Souvenir Bazaar, where you can buy a variety of handicrafts made of semi-precious stones, ebony, leather, fabric, wood and much more. In the sea of these colorful, shouting bright colors of varied, but not always high-quality and necessary goods, there is an island of a kind of Mombasa Montmartre, where artists exhibit their works in the open air. They work in both African, Arab and European traditions.

A community and cultural center for people with disabilities called Bombolulu Workshops, established in 1969, is located 8 km from Mombasa, with 150 people living here permanently and groups from other parts of Kenya, including children, come for rehabilitation. It is both an ethnographic village consisting of 8 traditional courtyards of different tribes, a training center for various crafts, and a specialized medical cluster. “Bombolulu Workshops” was opened in 1969 under the patronage of international organizations, and in 1987 it was also curated by the Association of Persons with Disabilities of Kenya. The handicrafts of people with disabilities (jewelry, handbags, African textiles) working at Bombolulu Seminarians are sold in more than 20 countries, bringing the Seminarians and their residents a steady income and allowing the center to provide them with free housing and treatment. And the main thing that people with poor health get here is the opportunity to socialize, make friends, families, have fun, and learn something new. The main thing Mombasa gets is the reputation of a humane and enlightened city. Both in Kenya and all of Africa. The foundations of the Bombolulu methodology have been widely implemented in the city’s schools in recent years. This is very important to him. The fact is that with the onset of the tourist boom, Mombasa has become a hub for all kinds and levels of entertainment venues. The standards of an idle, resort lifestyle, cultivated in casinos and nightclubs, in contact with the African temperament, created such a rattling mixture, which began to affect the local youth very badly. But physically and spiritually healthy, hard-working, knowledge-seeking, goal-oriented young people are extremely needed in the city, which has big development plans.

General Information

  • Kenya’s second most important and largest city after the capital, Nairobi, and the administrative center of Kenya’s Coastal Province.
  • The largest port in East Africa.
  • Center of resort region.
  • Administrative divisions: six districts.
  • Languages: English and Swahili, and local dialects.
  • Ethnic composition: representatives of various African tribes, with most of them Kikuyu, Luhya and Luo, Arabs, natives of Asia and Europe.
  • Religions: Christianity (Catholic and Anglican churches, an evangelical Pentecostal center), Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, traditional African beliefs.
  • Currency is Kenya shilling.
  • Ports: Mombasa and Kilindini.
  • The most important airport: Mombasa Moi International Airport, named after the president of Kenya from 1978 to 2002, Daniel Toroiticha Arap Moi. Mombasa can also be reached by local flight from Nairobi International Airport.
  • Area: 295 km2 of which 230 km2 is land and 65 km2 water.
  • Population: 939 370 (2009).
  • Population density: 4,084.2 people/km2.
  • Average height above sea level: 17 m.


  • Port industry, ship repair shops.
  • Industries: petroleum refining, cement, textile, paper, glass, electronics.
  • Fishing industry.
  • Services sphere: trade, logistics, business services (call-centers), tourism.

Climate and weather

  • Equatorial humid.
  • Average temperature in January: +27°C.
  • Average temperature in July: -24°C.
  • The average water temperature along the coastline does not drop below 27°C all year round, and reaches +35°C at the height of summer (January-February).
  • The sunniest period is from January to March, while June to November is the coolest season.
  • Average annual rainfall: 1060 mm.
  • The rainy season: April – May.


  • The Old City (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
  • Malindi is a coastal town, the same age as Mombasa: the cross on the coast is said to have been erected by Vasco da Gama.
  • The ruins of Godi (15th century) are the remains of an ancient town 16 km from Malindi.
  • Religious buildings: 20 mosques, the largest among which is Mandri (1570), the Anglican Cathedral of St. John (XX century, the architecture is close to the Moorish style), the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit with a silver dome, a Hindu temple of Shiva in the park Jamhuri, famous for its park sculptures.
  • Fort Jesus (1593), it houses the National Museum.
  • Souvenir Market.
  • Monument “Tusks of Mombasa” (1952).
  • Natural Reserves: Shimba Hills National Park (lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards, crocodiles, hippos, cheetahs, buffalo, and the only place in Kenya with a rare species of antelope – the black horse antelope Roan); Haller Park (zoo and botanical gardens): Tropical Forest Reserve (buffalo, elephants, baboons, mongooses, wild cats), more than 250 species of butterflies. Mpunguti and Kisit National Marine Parks, Watamu Marine Parks (underwater caves Vuma and Turtle Reef) and Malindi, Mamba Village Crocodile Farm.

Fun Facts

  • In 1895, when Kenya was declared a British colony, Fort Jesus became a prison and remained so until 1958, when the fort acquired the status of a historical monument.
  • The famous Danish writer Karen Blixen (1885-1962) wrote in her autobiographical bestseller Goodbye Africa: “Mombasa resembles a paradise garden in a child’s drawing.
  • In Mombasa’s Old Port, which has existed since the 11th century, you can still see small dhows whose shape and size are exactly the same as the Arabian medieval ships. The dhows are rigged in the same tradition, but of course they are equipped with modern navigational instruments.
  • The attitude of the inhabitants of Mombasa to religion is peculiar: a considerable part of them often call themselves adherents of two or more faiths, and traditional African beliefs are adhered to by almost all.
  • The most common and fastest mode of transport in Mombasa is the minibus buses, called matatu. They run at night and always have loud music.
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