In­side Re­fur­bished Fort Jesus

The mon­u­men­tal site, which draws tourists in droves, gets a facelift

Business Daily (Kenya) - - TOP NEWS - Eu­nice Mu­rathe eu­nice­mu­

Walk­ing into the newly re­fur­bished Fort Jesus feels like step­ping into a well-kept an­cient Omani city. Fort Jesus’ Oman House, Mazrui Hall and the mu­seum re­cently got a makeover. Early this year, the gov­ern­ment planned to use Sh1 bil­lion for the face-lift. Now, the squeaky stair­case has been re­placed by a steady tra­di­tional wooden hand-carved de­sign. Carved wooden doors with gold-plated knobs wel­come visi­tors to the his­toric build­ing. Fatma Twahir, prin­ci­pal cu­ra­tor at Fort Jesus, says Oman-swahili ar­chi­tec­ture had wooden bal­conies rather than metal ones. ‘‘Also wooden doors are the most out­stand­ing as­pect of Swahili ar­chi­tec­ture. This is the true de­pic­tion of an ideal Oman house,” she said. In­side the build­ing , the air is sooth­ing. Fatma says the Oman room is the only one with air con­di­tion­ers. His­toric in­for­ma­tion and dis­plays show­ing Omani ac­tiv­i­ties give visi­tors a glimpse of the rich cul­ture of the mer­chants who once ruled Mom­basa. There is an ex­hi­bi­tion of Omani jew­ellery, weaponry and other arte­facts. ‘‘We have also added Oman trad­ing items brought by Oman Arabs to East Africans,” she said. Ar­tillery used by Omani sol­diers dur­ing the re­bel­lions, as the fort changed hands at least nine times be­tween 1631 and the early 1870s, are on dis­play. Framed pic­tures of the Sul­tans of Oman adorn the ex­hibits room. The Kenyan coastal strip was ruled by the Sul­tan of Zanz­ibar who de­scended from Oman un­til around 1900. The Sul­tanate of Zanz­ibar was cre­ated after the death of Said bin Sul­tan, who had ruled Oman and Zanz­ibar as the Sul­tan of Oman. Be­sides the his­toric events, Oman Arabs’ mod­ern way of life has been show­cased. Man­nequins of women dressed in tra­di­tional at­tire and men in an an­kle-length gown called a dish­dasha (na­tional dress for men) stand in a curved glass. Sil­ver neck­laces with gem­stones hang beau­ti­fully on the gyp­sum board. The gem­stones are from Asia, Ye­men and Africa, as Oman traded with them for cen­turies. At the back of the hall is a can­non with an in­scrip­tion of the name of Sul­tan Sayyid Khal­ifa bin Said of Zanz­ibar. It was used for re­in­force­ment and has been brought as an ex­hibit. There is a tele­vi­sion with con­tin­u­ous run­ning videos of the mod­ern Oman his­tory. “Tourists are cu­ri­ous about this Oman House that maybe the only one out­side the Sul­tanate of Oman,” said Fatma. Re­la­tions be­tween Oman and Kenya date back to the 17th cen­tury when Mom­basa and other coastal cities were oc­cu­pied by the Sul­tanate of Oman. Traces of ar­chi­tec­ture and cul­ture from Oman are still ev­i­dent in Mom­basa. Some of the res­i­dents also trace their ances­try to them. The cu­ra­tor says that Oman min­is­ters and sailors who re­cently vis­ited the house recog­nised their vil­lage homes in the pic­tures at the ex­hi­bi­tion. ‘‘It was amus­ing and ful­fill­ing,’’ she said. The ren­o­vated Mazrui hall also of­fers more in­for­ma­tion on the early mer­chants. “Be­fore, we only had a few shells and corals. We have also cre­ated a ‘baraza’ where rulers used to sit to dis­cuss is­sues af­fect­ing the monarch. The red cushions with the Ara­bian fab­ric were all brought in by the Oman,” said Fatma, adding that the hall can now hold more visi­tors after re­in­force­ment of the up­per floor for watch­ing his­tor­i­cal movies. The can­non—a type of gun —was also re­painted, mounted and held by wooden struc­tures. Be­fore, col­lec­tions of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ar­ti­facts were poorly la­belled and dis­played. But now they are in new cab­i­nets and are la­belled in English, Kiswahili and Ara­bic. There are also ce­ram­ics of Chi­nese, Per­sian, Arab and Por­tuguese ori­gin, as well as a col­lec­tion of East African earth­en­ware, weaponry and in­stru­ments. The ren­o­va­tion was su­per­vised by the Em­bassy of Sul­tanate of Oman in Nairobi, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Min­istry of Sports, Cul­ture and Arts. More ren­o­va­tions are ex­pected in var­i­ous her­itage sites at Coast in­clud­ing the Vasco da Gama Pil­lar, and the Old Bri­tish Cus­toms House.

ART­WORKS dis­played at the Omani House.


Fatma Twahir, left, the prin­ci­pal cu­ra­tor at the Fort Jesus Mu­seum shows some of the mod­ern women at­tire dis­played at the Omani House in­side Fort Jesus. AN­CIENT HOME DECOR Some of the old home ac­ces­sories in­side the Fort Jesus mu­seum.

OLD GUNS Some of the can­nons that were re­paired in ren­o­va­tions car­ried out at the Fort Jesus.

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