||Fort Jesus, Kenya - Explanation, Facts And History
Tell Me About The History of Fort Jesus Located in Mombasa Old Town Port, Kenya?
The Portuguese built Fort Jesus, Mombasa, at the end of the sixteenth century to secure their position on the coast of East Africa. For a hundred years their northern headquarters had been the unfortified 'factory' or settlement at Malindi. However, the appearance of Turkish ships in the Indian Ocean, and the persistent hostility of the Swahili town of Mombasa convinced them that they could not allow the best harbor of the coast to become a base for their enemies. At this time Portugal was part of the possessions of the King of Spain, and Fort Jesus was one of the fortresses with which the Spanish crown attempted to maintain its global empire.
The site chosen was a coral ridge at the entrance to the harbor, about a mile from the old Swahili and Arab town. The original ramparts on the landward sides were 2X2 meters wide, with a parapet walk and firing step raised about 1 meter above the level of the central court. On the seaward side there has been much rebuilding and the original form of the outer walls is uncertain. In the bastion of S. Matias there was a low curb on which a wall with gun ports was later built.
The walls of coral blocks raised about 13 meters above the bottom of the ditch. Later, walls were built on top of the old parapets so that another 3 meters increased the height. The lower part of the defenses, as seen from the outside, is of solid coral, which was cut back to the line of the walls. On the west, considerable excavation was necessary to isolate the Fort from the ground behind it, and the work was never finished. The ditch varied in width from as much as 12 meters on the north to 3 meters beside, the southwest bastion. The Fort could not be undermined, and before the invention of explosive shells could only have been stormed with heavy casualties.
An Italian architect and engineer, Joao Batista Cairato, the leading architect of the Portuguese in India, designed Fort Jesus. The plan consists of a central court with oreillons or bastions at the four corners and a rectangular projection facing the sea, in all covering an area of about two acres.
The most prominent features of the plan are the reentrant angles of the two landward bastions, in which cannon were placed to sweep the face of the opposite bastion. The main gate was in the lee of the northeast bastion, but there were two passages on the seaward side leading to the outwork or couraca and a third in the southeast bastion, also facing the sea. It was built by the last Captain of Malindi and the first Captain of Mombasa, Mateus Mendes de Vasconcelos, and was dedicated on the 11th April 1593. The only major additions have been the elliptical bastion and the outer gate, which were erected after the Arab revolt of 1631. Battlements and parapets have been added or modified more than once, but Fort Jesus retains its late sixteenth century fortress plan and is one of the finest examples of its class.
The earliest known plan is in a manuscript atlas by Manuel Godinho de Heredia, dated 1610, which shows the original layout of the buildings inside the Fort. These consisted of barrack rooms on the north and south sides, guardrooms leading back from the main gate, and square buildings in the middle of the court, one of which must be the cistern. Excavations where the museum and public lavatories now stand uncovered the lowest courses of the barrack walls, but the floors had been re-laid. The base of the pillar carrying the arms of Portugal was found inside the angle tower where the projection joins the northeast bastion. The steps on the plan are the Passage of the Arches disappearing under a building which may be the structure shown on the Rezende plan The guns facing the sea in the rectangular projection are in the outwor
k outside the main walls of the Fort.
On the 16th August 1631, the Arab Sultan of Mombasa, called by the Portuguese Dom Jeronimo Chingulia, entered the Fort with a band of followers through the Passage of the Arches. He killed the Captain, Pedro Leitao de Gamboa, and then gave the signal to his followers outside the Fort to set fire to the Portuguese houses in the town. There was no resistance and in the course of the next two weeks all the Portuguese were killed. Dom Jeronimo, now Muhammad Yusif bin Hassan once more, beat off an attempt to retake the Fort without much trouble. Early in the following year, finding life with his people as distasteful as it had been with the Portuguese, he sailed away in a captured galleon and became a pirate. The Portuguese captain-elect, Pedro Rodrigues Botelho who had been waiting in Zanzibar, then reoccupied the Fort.
New works carried out in the years before the revolt consisted of the construction of a cavalier in S. Alberto and a platform around the apex and west side of S. Mateus. Dom Jeronimo is said to have destroyed the Fort before he departed, but of this there has been no archaeological evidence.
The next two captains, Pedro Rodrigues Botelho and Francisco de Seixas Cabreira, carried out considerable works of improvement. An outer gate was added, covered by an elliptical bastion; the bastions were raised to the level of the old parapet and new parapets were built on top of them; curtain walls were constructed between the bastions. A gun platform was built along the sea front of S. Mateus, also a wall over the curb of S. Matias, and semicircular towers in the angles where S. Mateus and S. Matias join the rectangular projection. The Rezende plan shows the new main gate, the corner towers and the building inside the Fort with pent roofs of Spanish tiles, which have been copied in the new buildings.
In 1640 Portugal became once more independent and solely responsible for the protection of her worldwide interests.
The great siege of Fort Jesus by the Oman Arabs began on the 13th March 1696, and ended on the 13th December 1698. The original garrison had consisted of the Captain, Joao Rodrigues Leao, some fifty men with their women and children, and about 1,500 loyal Swahili from Kilifi, Malindi and Faza. The Captain died in October and was succeeded by Antonio Mogo de Mello. On Christmas Day, 1696, when the Fort was about to fall, it was reinforced from Goa, but the reinforcements brought plague with them. On 20th July 1697, the Arabs attempted to take it by storm but were beaten off by the four surviving Portuguese, twenty-two African men (seventeen of whom were Bajuni) and fifty African women. By the end of August, all the Portuguese, except a teenage boy, were dead and Bwana Daud, a cousin of the Sheikh of Faza, held the Fort. In September the frigate, which had brought the reinforcements, was called in on its way back from Mozambique to Goa. It was wrecked on the shoal opposite the Fort and the crew became the garrison. The general, Luis de Mello de Sampaiom, soon died but his successor, Joseph Pereira de Brito, drove the Arabs from the surrounding of the Fort.
In December a new garrison of a hundred men under Leandro Barbosa Soutomaior was landed, and the crew of the frigate with Bwana Daud and his followers were taken to Goa. But plague stayed and by the middle of December 1698, only the Captain, eight Portuguese soldiers, three Indians, two African women and an African boy remained alive. The Fort was scaled during the night of 12th December, near the gate in S. Mateus, but the Portuguese held out in the cavalier bastion until seven in the morning of the following day. Then the Captain was killed and the survivors surrendered, but later one of them blew himself up with many Arabs in the powder magazine over the gate, where he said gold had been hidden. A few days later the relief ship arrived from Goa, saw the red flag of Oman flying over the Fort and sailed on to Mozambique.
The state of the Fort during the great siege can only
be conjectured from the Rezende plan of 1636 and from two more plans, one by Don Alvaro "Marquis of Cienfuegos", the other by Engineer Colonel Jose Lopes de Sa, made during the brief reoccupation of 1728-1729. In the Cienfuegos plan the names of all the bastions are changed, while in the Lopes de Sa plan the only new name is S. Antonio for the northeast bastion, formerly S. Matias.
During the siege the outer walls were badly damaged. The rooms on the seaward side of the Captain's House were not rebuilt, but filled in to make a high gun platform above the outwork. On the Lopes de Sa plan no structures are shown in this part of the Fort, but the portico outside the Captain's House, later the Audience Room of the Mazrui, must have been in existence. The Passage of the Arches is marked, but not the gate in S. Mateus, although a sunken court with the 'Provisions Store' is shown behind it. The gatehouse was rebuilt sometime during the eighteenth century. It is possible that the early eighteenth century Omani governors lived in the town and that the Fort was merely a barracks.
The reoccupation of the Fort on the 16th March 1728 was a bloodless operation, the result of the happy conjunction of a Portuguese fleet, an absent Arab governor and mutinous soldiers.
The new Captain, Alvaro Caetano de Mello e Castro, repaired the Fort, but no details of what he did have survived. On Palm Sunday in April 1729, there was an uprising and the Portuguese were driven from the town into the Fort. On the 26th November, when supplies were running low and an Omani fleet was expected to arrive, they capitulated. Some of the soldiers became Muslims and stayed in Mombasa; the Captain and thirty others were given two small ships to take them to Mozambique.
In 1741, the Yaarubi ruling dynasty of Oman was replaced by the Abusaid and the Governor of Mombasa, Muhammad bin Othman al Mazrui, declared his independence. Five years later he was murdered in the Fort by assassins sent from Oman; his brother Ali was lowered over the walls and escaped. He appealed to an English captain, named Cook, who advised him to make scaling ladders and take the Fort by night attack. This he did, with the exception of one bastion, perhaps the cavalier bastion of the siege. Here the assassins held out until the obliging English captain landed a cannon from his ship and blew a hole in it. They surrendered and were executed, and Ali bin Othman became governor.
The Mazrui ruled relatively undisturbed until the great Seyyid Said bin Sultan of Oman began to turn his attention to his African domains. In their efforts to maintain their independence the Mazrui put themselves under the protection of the British flag, and it was in a room in the Fort that the convention was signed on the 9th February 1824, which led to the first unofficial British protectorate. This was never ratified but sufficed to prolong the rule of the Mazrui. On the 25th July 1826, the British representative was withdrawn and on The 7th January 1828, Seyyid Said occupied the Fort. However, in the last days of the year his governor, Nasir bin Sulaiman, was forced by hunger to surrender to the Mazrui and was later murdered. It was not until February 1837, that the Fort was regained without fighting by the Sultan.
During this period the only new constructions seem to have been the well, shown on the Lopes de Sa plan, houses on top of the cavaliers and turrets on the walls. In addition, the portico outside the Captain's House was converted into a Hall of Audience. The Portuguese buildings remained in use but became increasingly dilapidated. By the end of the century most of them had been demolished or had become palm frond huts in which lived the dependents of the Mazrui. The rubbish and latrine pits belonging to them have been found wherever there have been excavations. Captain Owen remarked in 1823 on the poor state of the defenses, which were never repaired, and the miserable buildings inside the Fort. It is uncertain where the Mazrui lived, or indeed, if they lived
with their families in the Fort.
During the Zanzibar period (1837-1895) the Fort was used as a barracks for the soldiers of the Sultan, which in fact meant that there was very little change. Rubbish pits and the filling of the Passage of the Arches, containing European and English china and Chinese porcelain of the nineteenth century, represent the period.
In January, 1875, the commander of the Sultan's troops, Al-Akida Muhammad bin Abdulla al Bakshuwein, revolted and on the 18th January the Fort was bombarded with rockets and shells by two British men-of-war. H.M.S, Rifleman and Nassau. The British Protectorate was proclaimed on the 1st July 1895, and the Fort was converted into a prison. The huts were removed and cells were built over the stumps of the walls of the old barrack rooms. A Public Works Department plan made in 1899 shows the Fort with the Arab and new prison buildings.
In May 1958, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation made a generous donation of £30,000 for the restoration of Fort Jesus as an historical monument and the building of a museum. On the 24th October 1958 Fort Jesus was declared a National Park in the custody of the Trustees of the Kenya National Parks, and on the 29th November 1960, it was officially opened to the public. On 1st January. 1969, it was transferred from the custody of the National Parks Trustees to the Museum Trustees of Kenya.
A Walk Through Fort Jesus Architecture
Standing with one's back to the ticket office, the layout of the Main Court is very much what it was in the past. On the left, where the Museum now stands, was a line of barrack rooms, with another line on the right; in the middle are the remains of the Church, with the Cistern beside it; beyond, are two landward bastions with the cavaliers.
Following the north curtain (on the right), built over the original parapet and parapet walk (restored), we pass a turret on the wall, the lower part of which is probably Portuguese and the upper part nineteenth century. The gun ports in the walls cover the two main streets of the Portuguese town.
Entering the Bastion of S. Filipe, on the right are two gun ports covering the outer gate and on the left the, Cavelier Bastion of S. Antonio with an Arab house on top of it. A cavalier bastion was a raised gun position to cover ground which would otherwise be out of sight of the garrison. It was approached by a flight of steps above which is an inscription, translated as follows:
"In the year 1648 Antonio da Silva de Menezes took over this fortress and finding it much damaged undertook its restoration. He made barracks for the soldiers, three storehouses and a hospital, and he ordered the construction of this cavalier bastion to be named S. Antonio."
The Arab house was built in the late eighteenth century, but has been altered during the prison period when it served as the Chief Warder's house. From the top there is a fine view over old Mombasa.
The inner point of the bastion projects into the ditch. It originally consisted of a platform with a parapet only on the outer face. Between the platform and the parapet of the west curtain was a gap, barred only by a wooden palisade. When the Fort was reconstructed in 1634 the gap was blocked, the bastion filled up to the level of the parapet and a new parapet, of the same type as the old, made over it. Later, probably at the same time as the cavalier, a wall with musket slits was built over the new parapet. The wall on the inner side of the bastion, with the two latrines is probably late Portuguese. In the Arab period, a house was built against the re-entrant angle and it ceased to be a defensive position. A narrow wall was 'built on top of the wall of the musket slits, with a space behind for a sentry walk.
The west wall of the Fort shows best the original defenses, consisting of a parapet, firing stop and parapet walk. Above it a curtain wall has been built in two stages, of which the upper part is furnished with musket slits but at a height fro
m the ground, which would have needed scaffolding before they could be used.
The Bastion of S. Alberto to the southwest contains the Curator's house and is not open to the public. Its plan is identical with S. Filipe. In the corner was another cavalier on which was built an Arab house, which was later converted into a magazine.
The Church was also the parish church of Mombasa, the entrance was at the east end, and the room on the left of the altar was probably a baptistery. Traces of red ochre are to be seen on the floor and walls. The four platforms in the nave may be the bases of walls, which supported beams carrying a series of lights or openings below a long gable roof. The stumps of pillars down the center are Arab and were added to support the sagging roof. The west end was rebuilt in the late seventeenth century with large pier carrying an arch over the altar.
Beside it is the Great Cistern, which was filled with water from the roof of the Church. The Arabs made the Well and washing places in the eighteenth century. The water is very brackish. The enclosures in the rear of the church were built in the second half of the seventeenth century and were open or had no permanent roofs. Behind them were two blocks of barrack rooms, divided by steps leading up to the parapet walk. They do not appear on the Rezende plan, so they were built after 1636. The north block was demolished when the enclosures behind the church were built. The three surviving rooms on the south side have been rebuilt and are possibly the storerooms referred to in the Menezes inscription. The room with supports for benches may have been at one time a store for cloth, the principal means of exchange, which would have been damaged if it had remained on the damp floor. Later the floor was raised and a new door made when the courts behind the church were built. The south block was again restored at the end of the eighteenth century, and a new floor laid about one meter above the old. This building was demolished when a platform was constructed over the old parapet and parapet walk in the nineteenth century.
At the opposite end of the Main Court are the remains of the Captain's House, two Passages leading to the outwork and the two seaward Bastions.
Leaving the ticket office on the left, we reach the Passage of the Arches, which was cut through the coral to emerge in the Outwork. Leading off the passage is the Ammunition Store, consisting of two chambers excavated in the coral. The passage is spanned by three arches, which carried floors on the outer and inner segments. In the outer segment there was an additional floor, which rested on a vault carried on coral ledges, which had been left on each side to support it. The last arch is peculiar and may be only a relieving arch, which was left when the original arch or opening was removed. After the blocking of the gate, drainage from the court filled the passage with mud, which by the early nineteenth century had reached the base of the relieving arch.
The Captain's House was carried over the Passage of the Arches and extended to the outer wall of the platform, overlooking the Outwork. The east wall was destroyed in the great siege, and most of the south wall during the bombardment of 1875. The only part of the original outer wall that has survived is the north wall. The small chamber beside the north wall is merely a strengthening of the wall and was never open. The pedestal in the corner is a basin, which was in use before the wall was strengthened.
To the right of the Passage of the Arches is a storied building of which the core, represented by the pillars in the west wall, was the portico outside the Captain's quarters. Subsequently, the original doors were blocked and an elaborate doorway in Indo-Portuguese style, flanked by pillars, was built. The seat with the rolled edge and the lotus scroll above it are contemporary with the doorway. During the Mazrui period the portico was converted into an audience room. Another seat was made along the west wall a
nd a new roof, with beams carved with poems and Quranic verses, was erected. High up on the wall on the right-hand side of the doorway is a graffiti recording the pilgrimage to Mecca of the Mazrui Governor, Ahmad bin Muhammad, and his return in 1793. In this room the negotiations were carried on which led to the British Protectorate of 1824-1826. When the upper story was added, the openings above the seats on the west side of the room were blocked to carry the weight. Outside, on the left of the entrance, is a dais with a painted wall built in the eighteenth century.
At the south end of the platform is the Passage of the Steps, leading down to a gate in the wall, which emerged, on the rock above the outwork. The window at the south end of the Audience Room is in the blocked entrance to this passage. It was blocked and the passage filled in about the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Captain's House was extended the whole length of the platform.
Turning to the right, we regain the Main Court through a small room, built probably at the same time as the new doorway in the portico.
Before reaching the Museum, an opening on the left leads into the Bastion of S. Mateus. This bastion, sometimes called the Bastion of the Flags, was the most exposed part of the Fort and was strengthened by a broad platform extending round the west side and the apex facing the sea. The fine plastered face of the platform was covered with sketches of galleons, churches, fishes and little figures of Portuguese and Arabs, painted a little before the construction of the later gun platforms. The pictures have been removed and are shown in the room at the back of the court. In the east wall of the bastion was a large gate, which emerged about ten feet above the surface of the ground outside, with which a wooden gangway would have linked it.
When the level of the bastions was raised in 1634, a gun platform was erected on the seaward side with a vaulted passage leading to the gate. On the opposite side a thick battered wall was built, masking the wall with the paintings and raising the level of the platform so that the gun ports in the new west wall, covering the Bastion of S. Alberto, could be used. Between the west and the east platform was an open court leading to the gate. The cone-shaped structure built on the new wall is probably the seating for a flagstaff. At the back of the court and leading to the main court of the Fort was a room, which predated the filling-in of the bastion. The gate in the east wall was at one time narrowed to a posterm and later blocked. The court was largely filled in during the first quarter of the eighteenth century but is shown on the Lopes de Sa plan.
At the end of the century, or later, a small mosque was built above the north end of it. The gun port in the corner is angled to fire on a ship the moment it passes the point on which the Katherine Bibby hospital (now called Mombasa Hospital) now stands. The turret beside it is the position of the officer controlling the fire of the battery on the gun platform. Both gun port and turret are omitted in the Owen sketch and must be the work of the last Mazrui between 1824 and 1837.
The bastion is connected with the platform over the Captain's House through a prison warder's quarters and the south corner tower. This communication must have existed from the time of the filling up of the Captain's House. The lower line of crenellations, gun ports and musket slits belongs to the reconstruction of the early eighteenth century. The prison authorities added the upper line when a line of cells was built on top of the platform. The turret in the southeast corner is early nineteenth century; the turret in the northeast comer was built after the 1875 bombardment.
A narrow passage between an L-shaped building, shown on the Lopes de Sa plan, and the outer wall of the Bastion of S. Matias leads to the raised north end of the bastion. The sunken court shows the original state of the bastion. In 1634 it was extended in the form of an
elliptical bastion to cover the outer gate. The court was filled in and a curtain wall, with gun ports, built round the enlarged bastion. The parapet, the east wall and the house behind it were rebuilt after the 1875 bombardment.
A modern flight of steps leads up to the roof over the outer gate, and another flight to the gatehouse. The gatehouse was blown up with the powder magazine by a Portuguese soldier, Antonio de Barbosa, after the fall of the Fort in 1698, and the walls of the solar above and the powder magazine below are an eighteenth century rebuilding. In the old solar the sultan killed the Portuguese Captain, Pedro Leitao de Gamboa and his wife and daughter during the 1631 revolt.
We descend to the Main Court by a flight of stone steps. The vaulted Inner Gate is the original entrance to the Fort. Above it is an inscription, which can be translated:
"When Philip of Austria was reigning as Philip I of Portugal this fortress was founded at his command with the name of Jesus of Mombasa on the eleventh of April, 1593. At this time Matias d'Albuquerque was Viceroy of India, and the Captain Major Mateus Mendes de Vasconcelos had arrived with his fleet at this harbor with the Chief Architect of India, Joao Batista Cairato, with Gaspar Rodriguez serving as Master of Works."
Above the Outer Gate is another inscription recording the restoration of the Fort and the reconquest of the coast after the revolt of 1631, translated as follows:
"In 1635 Francisco de Seixas de Cabreira, aged twenty-seven years, was made for four years Captain of this Fort which he had reconstructed and to which he added this guardroom. He subjected to His Majesty the people of this coast who, under their tyrant king, had been in a state of rebellion. He made the Kings of Otondo, Mandra, Luziwa and Jaca tributary to His Majesty. He inflicted in person punishment on Pate and Sio, which was unexpected in India, extending to the destruction of their town walls. He punished the Musungulos and chastised Pemba, where on his own responsibility he had the rebel governors and all leading citizens executed. He made all pay tribute to His Majesty who had neglected to pay it. For these services he was made a Knight of the Royal Household after he had already for other services been given the habit of the Order of Christ and a yearly grant of fifty milreis and the governorship of Jafnapatan for six years and of Belgaon for four years, with the right to make all appointments during his life and in the event of his death.
During the Viceroyalty of Pedro da Silva in the year of our Lord 1639".
The outside of the Fort is as interesting as the inside and less obscured by modern structures. After leaving the approach to the gate, turn left into the car park and follow the ditch. On the west face of the Bastion of S. Filipe, below the turret, is the coat of arms of Philip II of Spain. The wall of the Fort on this side presents a perfect example of a fortress planned according to the best Italian rules of the day. At the far end is the northwest Bastion of S. Alberto, with the arms of Albert the Pious, Archbishop of Toledo and Viceroy of Portugal from 1594 to 1596, and above it a turret similar to the turret in S. Filipe. During the first year of the siege a large number of the citizens of Mombasa lived in the ditch.
The path continues round the Fort towards the shore. The southeast bastion, S. Mateus, soon appears on the left. On the east face are the arms of Mateus Mendes de Vasconcelos, the first Captain of Mombasa and the builder of the Fort. The gate from this bastion would have emerged to the right of the first gun port from the comer. It was at this point that the Fort was scaled on the night of the 12th December 1698. The polygonal tower, in the angle of the bastion and the gun platform, was added during the reconstruction of 1634.
The path enters the Outwork in front of the platform. The Passage of the Steps came out above the coral slope on which the walls are built near the sout
hwest corner. The Passage of the Arches emerged in the middle where the coral has been cut back for it. During the great siege supplies were landed on the beach south of the Fort and were carried into it through this passage.
The present outwork is a reconstruction of the early nineteenth century. The nicks at the apex of the arches of the gun ports are a feature of the Arab architecture of the coast. On the earliest plans there seems to have been an outwork in this position, which may have collapsed. It is described as unfinished in the Cienfuegos plan, which could be as early as 1650, and is shown double, possibly an upper and lower section, on the Lopes de SA plan. The gateway facing the town is modem; the original entrance on the south side has been rebuilt. The square pit with an entrance through an elongated gun port is nineteenth century and was built to facilitate the storing of bulky commodities, which would be landed from boats at high tide. It is shown with a galvanized iron roof on a photograph taken in 1899.
Leaving the outwork, the northeast bastion of S. Matias is on the left. On the right are the foundations of a wall from the outwork to the water gate, both late Arab. The water gate appears on the Guillain sketch of 1846, but not on the Owen sketch of 1824. The use of voussoirs shows the introduction of non-indigenous building techniques. Beyond the gate was a customs house, which has disappeared.
The Bastion of S. Matias suffered greatly in the bombardment of 1875 and the upper part of the wall with the turret at the end has been rebuilt. The comer tower across the angle of the gun platform and the bastion was knocked down" with the musket men inside it", during the bombardment of 1875 and also has been rebuilt. The coat of arms of Matias d'Albuquerque, Viceroy of India from 1590 to 1597, after whom the bastion was named, is missing.
Turning the comer we approach the gate of the Fort. The west wall of the original bastion is below the modern drain, and the whole length of wall beyond is the Elliptical Bastion, which was built in 1634 to cover the gate. The first approach to the Fort was by a flight of wooden steps across the ditch beside the wall of the old bastion. Later it was brought round the elliptical bastion on a wooden bridge, which, after it had collapsed, was replaced by a causeway.
Artifacts and Wreck Collection At The Fort Jesus Museum
The Museum is located across the gate of the Fort.
The collection consists largely of ceramics: Chinese porcelain, Persian
and Portuguese glazed ware and local and foreign earthenware excavated
at Swahili sites on the coast or acquired in Mombasa. The Chinese
porcelain includes Yueh, Lungch'uan and K'ang Hsi celadon; Yuan, Ming
and Ch'ing blue and white, and Wang Hsi polychrome. The contemporary
Persian wares include Sassanian-Islamic, blue and white, and lead glazed
monochromes and polychromes dating from the ninth to the nineteenth
century. The Portuguese wares consist of the polished red, and blue and
white of the seventeenth century.
The Chinese porcelain was imported from India; there is no evidence of
direct trade between China and East Africa.
On the left of the entrance there is a collection of Chinese and Siamese
stoneware jars. Against the end wall is a display bf the finds from the
Portuguese frigate, which sank off the Fort in 1697. Next to the counter
is an ebony chair inlaid with ivory, and a carved wooden Mbuzi for
grating coconut; these are characteristics of the East African Coast.
On the left of the entrance is a Persian chest, which is a fine example
of its type, and two vermicelli squeezers.
The cases are in chronological order, and the labels are colored
according to the origin of the exhibits:
Buff - African;
Yellow - Chinese;
Green - Islamic;
Blue - Indian;
Red - European.
The white labels provide a continuous narrative linking the cases with
In the first case on the left is a map of the coast of Kenya showing the
sites of the historical monuments. The names in red are places where
excavations have been carried out. The following twenty-one cases
contain finds from excavations. Among the most interesting exhibits are
the fine celadon dishes, the horned bowl used as a charcoal stove, the
Portuguese gilt brass crosses and medallions, and European trade beads
covering the period from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. On
the wall beyond are a number of copies of plans from the Portuguese
archives; crossing to the opposite side, the story is continued to the
end of the nineteenth century.
Many of the exhibits in these cases have been presented to the Museum.
Among them are a number of fine pieces of Chinese porcelain of the
eighteenth century; elaborately decorated wooden door locks; a set of
Arab military equipment of the early nineteenth century, and some
musical instruments. Horns blown at the side are a feature of the
culture of the coast. Of the two in the Museum, one is a wooden war
horn; the other made of buffalo horn carved in cameo is a proclamation
horn of the Sultan of Pate.
On the veranda there are a number of fragments of Arab tombstones; two
models of Mtepe, the sewn boat of the coast, and some carved doors.
Most of the cannon in the court are English eighteenth and early
nineteenth century naval guns, which were brought to the Fort at the
time of the reoccupation of 1837. On the north side of the court are
eight English, one Swedish, one French, and one Venetian cannon. In
front of the Museum is a line of English 18-pounders. The cannon balls
range from twenty to three pounds weight, and were found in the
Ammunition Store tinder the Captain's House.
The collection reflects the cosmopolitan culture, which has been enjoyed
by the coast for a thousand years.
Contents Of The Portuguese Ship Wreck In Front Of The Fort Jesus
During attempts to relieve the siege of Fort Jesus a Portuguese
42-gun frigate sank in front of the Fort. This ship, the Santo Antonio
de Tanna was built in Bassein, near Bombay, in 1680; the story of her
sinking is told in a beautifully handwritten account of the siege which
is kept in the National Library of Lisbon. After visiting Mozambique,
the Tanna came back to Mombasa on 15 September, 1697, and anchored in
front of the Fort, where she at once received the full attention of Arab
batteries on shore. She was probably badly damaged, but she did not
sink, and on 20 October "her anchor cables parted" and she
drifted across the harbor, grounding on the "northeast reef",
where she lost her rudder. Later the same day she drifted back and
grounded on Mombasa Island, probably near the Old Port. The Portuguese
were able to tow her back to a position in front of the Fort. By this
time she could hardly have been seaworthy; after the valuables on board
had been salvaged, she was abandoned, and gradually she sank to her
present position, some 17m (55 ft) below sea level.
In 1963, amateur divers searching the seabed in front of the Fort, found
Chinese porcelain plates of the K'ang-hsi period (1662-1722), and
further exploration yielded Portuguese bowls and other interesting
objects. A limited excavation was carried out by volunteers in 1970
under the guidance of Dr. James Kirkman, and finds included a very large
Siamese storage jar, a big copper cauldron, and a bronze cannon bearing
the Portuguese coat of arms and the date 1678.
There was little doubt that these objects had come from the Wreck of the
Santo Antonio, and the National Museums of Kenya planned a larger scale
excavation. As a first step, a preliminary survey by the Institute of
Nautical Archaeology, Texas, was carried out in January February 1976,
with financial help from the National Geographic Society.
The results of this survey were very encouraging and in January 1977
two-dozen divers from Kenya, Britain, Portugal and U.S.A. assembled in
Mombasa for the first three-month season of excavation under the
direction of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. During this season
most of the stern half of the ship was uncovered, and a transverse
trench 2m by 16m was excavated across the center part of the hull and
down the sloping sea bed below it. During the next two seasons, 1978 and
1979, the remainder of the hull was uncovered and recorded. The stern
and bows have rotted away, leaving 27m of the hull in good condition.
Probably the original length of the hull was about 35m. Although some
hanging knees were found there is no longer any trace of the lower gun
The lower part of the ship's hull was found to be in surprisingly good
condition where it had been buried and protected by the mud. The main
timbers, almost certainly made of teak, were so hard that it was
difficult to hammer a nail into them. The keelson with the mainmast step
was located and the outer planking or strakes, some 10 cm thick, were
found in position. Overlying them were the frames (or ribs) of the ship
25 cm square, and quite a lot of the ceiling planks (or 'floor') were
still attached to the frames. In fact the hull was so complete that it
was not possible at any point to see through to the keel. The fashioning
of the harbor end of the ship showed that this was the stern and the
prow was pointing out to sea.
The Santo Antonio was based in Goa and it is not surprising to find thin
earthenware flasks of Indian origin, though what is surprising is that
some of them survived unbroken.
Unglazed African pottery was abundant on the ship and must have been
used for storage and for cooking. From an archaeologist's point of view
it is extremely useful to have such a collection of pots of known age
from various Indian Ocean ports, and an archaeological site in
Mozambique has already been dated by reference to pottery from the Santo
A large number of broken square glass case bottles were found, fitted
with pewter screw tops. Almost all the bottles were open and the screw
tops were found separately which bears out a passage in the Lisbon
manuscript. This describes how, on 16th September 1697, after fighting
all day the men drank their ration of wine on empty stomachs and then
became too drunk to carry out their duties.
A number of very thin glass containers, which were the separate halves
of sandglasses were found. Their size suggests that they were half hour
glasses, and they would have been an important navigational aid, used
with a knotted log-line to estimate the speed of the ship (hence the
Among the most numerous items on the wreck were small rectangles of
translucent shell. These are cut from the windowpane oyster shell (placuna
placenta) and were used instead of glass in lanterns and probably also
in windows. The shells are abundant around the Philippines and are still
used to make lampshades and wind-bells.
The stern of the ship was for the officers and the ship would have been
controlled from there. It was in this area that four very interesting
navigation compasses were found. Two are bowl compasses in which the
round wooden compass bowl is balanced or gimbaled in a square wooden
box, and two consist of a pair of gimbals. No compass cards or needles
were found; it is probable that these were destroyed by the Portuguese
to prevent them from falling into Arab hands.
Another important find from the stern was a finely carved wooden figure,
which seems to have held a trumpet in one hand and to have been
associated with two carved wooden wings. The figure is certainly in
character, and may even be a representation of Santo Antonio.
The ship was carrying at least 200 logs of African ebony (Dalbergia
melanoxylon; Swahili mpingo). This very hard wood is renowned for its
suitability for turning on a lathe. The value of this cargo is indicated
by the fact that almost every log has initials neatly carved in it.
Many personal possessions of people on board the ship were found. These
include an ivory comb, silver buttons and shoe buckles, clay pipes,
parts of shoes with wooden stack heels, and religious medallions of St.
Dominic and St. Francis Xavier.
At present there are no plans to raise the remains of the ship; this
would be extremely expensive. The cost of preservation would be
prohibitive, even if it could be satisfactorily achieved. Instead, the
ship's timbers have been meticulously measured and recorded in such a
way that a scale model could be built. The remains of the ship have been
reburied in mud and silt which is the best way to preserve them on the
seabed until more is known about the conservation of timber from marine
However, the conservation of retrieved material has so far been very
successful. From the wreck, Fort Jesus has developed one of the most
modern conservation laboratories in this region.
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