Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus, Mombasa

Fort Jesus, Mombasa

The Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1593-1596 to the designs of Giovanni Battista Cairati to protect the port of Mombasa, is one of the most outstanding and well preserved examples of 16th Portuguese military fortification and a landmark in the history of this type of construction. The Fort’s layout and form reflected the Renaissance ideal that perfect proportions and geometric harmony are to be found in the human body. The property covers an area of 2.36 hectares and includes the fort’s moat and immediate surroundings.

Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Built by the Portuguese at the end of the 16th century at the southern edge of the town of Mombasa, over a spur of coral rock, and kept under their control for one century, Fort Jesus, Mombasa, bears testimony to the first successful attempt by Western civilization to rule the Indian ocean trade routes, which, until then had remained under Eastern influence. The design of the fort, with its proportions, its imposing walls and five bastions, reflects the military architectural theory of the Renaissance. Fort Jesus, Mombasa, bears physical witness, in its structures and subsequent transformations, also to the interchange of cultural values and influences between and among peoples of African, Arab, Turkish, Persian and European origin that fought to gain and maintain their control over this strategic port.

Criterion (ii): Built in a period and in a region, which were at the centre of the emerging political, commercial, and cultural globalisation, Fort Jesus, with its imposing structure, and the various traces of subsequent modifications, bears significant witness to the interchange of cultural values among peoples of African, Arab, Turkish, Persian and European origin. Built and occupied first by the Portuguese, Fort Jesus, Mombasa, changed hands many times throughout its history, coming under Arab, Swahili and English control. Its important role in the control of trade also saw it host many of the peoples of the Indian Ocean basin.

Criterion (iv): Fort Jesus, Mombasa, eminently exemplifies a new type of fortification that resulted from the innovations in military and weapons technology that occurred between the 15th and 16th centuries. In its layout and form, the Fort reflects the Renaissance ideal whose architectural proportions and geometric harmony are to be found in the proportions of the human body, while at the same time meeting the functional needs of a modern and well-defended fortification. The original layout of the Fort, despite several changes, has survived almost unchanged over centuries of continued occupations and reoccupations.


The boundaries of the property have been delineated to include the underwater archaeological remains in the expanse of sea in front of Fort Jesus as well as the moat area adjacent to Mombasa Old Town. Minor changes inside the Fort bear witness to its history and do not threaten its integrity. The property is in good conditions and there is no urban or development encroachment in its immediate vicinity. Mombasa Old Town, which is integral to Fort Jesus’ historic context, acts as the buffer zone of the Fort.


In regard to authenticity, Fort Jesus, Mombasa, hasretained its form, design and materials, with coral stone and lime mortar still being used in the traditional way, where necessary, for repair and conservation work. It has also retained its authenticity of setting, located on an otherwise unbuilt property along the coast of Mombasa Island adjacent to the Mombasa Old Town with which it shares a common history.  

Protection and management requirements

The legal protection system for the property is adequate: Fort Jesus, Mombasa, was originally designated a National Park in 1958, the protected area included the Fort itself and a 100-meter strip around it; today it falls under the National Museums and Heritage Act, 2006. The buffer zone has been formally declared a Conservation Area, however, a discrepancy between the size of the designated Conservation Area and the size of the Buffer Zone has not been amended yet.

A satisfactory management plan has been put in place for the property with the National Museums of Kenya acting as the key stakeholder in its conservation and safeguarding.  BBC

Long-term conservation and management issues include the protection of the Fort from urban encroachment and inappropriate design in the areas adjacent to the Fort and in the surrounding Mombasa Old Town, which require the reinforcement of dedicated management structures and staff, control of erosion of the rocks along the sea coast, and the ongoing maintenance and conservation of the Fort itself.

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