Fort Jesus, man’s first racial and religious melting pot
500 years of existence, this Fort stands, a symbol, a melting pot, witness to man’s unity in diversity, a source of conflict, it is a pillar of humanity’s resilience to survive.
Long before American civil war, Africans, Arabs, Europeans, Chinese, and Indians - united for a cause fought. Bloody conquests; sieges,takeovers, rebellions, mutinies, plagues, diseases, hunger and starvation equalized all men under its bastions.
Designed during the Renaissance in the form of a man, by Giovanni Battista Cairati a leading military architect of his time, its construction was commissioned in 1593.
Built on Mombasa Island, by the Portuguese, a vibrant commercial hub and an important stopover on the trade route between Europe, Arabia, India and China. Fort Jesus became a stronghold for protecting global interests of emerging superpowers.
In the 15th Century, Europe was ravaged by wars and disease, it’s main religion Christianity, was under siege, Islam was fast spreading in regions thought before to be Christian strongholds. Alarmed King Dom Henry of Portugal, a world power at the time, institutes a new military order - The Order of Christ. It’s mission, to fight against the Moors.
In 1498, Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese sailor under the banner of the Order of Christ, arrives at the port of Mombasa. He is the first European to discover a trade route to Asia, he sails on to Goa in India where the Portuguese establish a post under a Viceroy.
In 1585 Turks attack Portuguese outpost in Mombasa, Viceroy Matias de Albuquerque of Goa, responds, he orders Captain Mateus Mendes de Vasconcelos in Mombasa to construct a Fort and to call it Jesus. Fort Jesus is conceptualized.
The Construction of Fort Jesus employs unique geometry,a first of its kind. Its architect Giovanni Battista Cairati draws inspiration from the geometry of the human body, represented in its bastions and flanks.
After its completion Fort Jesus stands true to its name. A 300 hundred year span sets the Fort up as a battleground of religious rivalry between Islam and Christianity. In 1652, taking advantage of Portuguese declining power,Omani Arabs start raiding Portuguese interests along the East African coast.
Between 1696 to December of 1698 Omani Arabs lay siege on Fort Jesus. In what has come to be known as the great siege, a remarkable feat of human endurance plays out.
For three years a handful Portuguese soldiers, sympathetic Africans and a few loyal Arabs withstand daily bombardment and hunger. They are eventually thinned out by disease. In December of 1698, the Fort falls. The Fort’s captain, nine men and a priest are the only men still surviving.
Between 1728 to 1837 the Fort changes hands between Al Mazrui and the Sultan of Zanzibar Seyyid Said. In 1824 Britain seeking to expand its influence in the world comes to this shores and offers to protect Al Mazrui. In 1826 they withdraw their support and once again the Fort falls to the Sultan.
In 1875 British ships bombard the fort to quell a mutiny by Al Akida. In 1895 the British who by now have colonized the region christening it - East African protectorate, turn Fort Jesus into a prison.
The Kenyan government in 1958 gazettes Fort Jesus as a National monument, opening its doors to the public in 1960. UNESCO declares the Fort a world Heritage centre in 2011.
Fort Jesus is one of the best surviving 16th century Portuguese fortresses in the world. It's military architecture remains solid despite numerous bombardments, occupation and counter occupation.
It is a true symbol of human competitiveness, constant contests, uncertainties and wars. Fort Jesus is a remainder to civilizations, past and present, a statement - “Sometimes we win, Sometimes we lose.”- It epitomizes courage and endurance in the face of adversity.
Fort Jesus stands today, tall, majestic, untouched, untainted, a common heritage to humanity: The Portuguese, The Turks, The Arabs, The Africans, The Dutch, and The British, all share in its glorious history.
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