MOMBASA, the principal seaport of British East Africa, in 4 4' S., 39 43' E., 150 m. N. of Zanzibar. Pop. about 30,000. Mombasa is built on a coralline island which nearly fills the mouth of a deep arm of the sea. The channel on either side of the island Mombasa to the N.E., Kilindini to the S.W. affords safe harbourage, and each leads to a deeper ramification of the sea, Mombasa Harbour to Port Tudor, Kilindini Harbour to Port Reitz. Mombasa town is on the N.E. side of the island, 2 m. from Kilindini, with which it is connected by rail and tramways. Viewed from the sea Mombasa has a picturesque appearance, the most conspicuous object being the fort, built on a coral hill 40 ft. high. Except for the main street and Government Square (close to the harbour and containing the customs-house and other official buildings), Mombasa proper presents the usual aspect of an Oriental city a maze of narrow, irregular streets and lanes. To the south, overlooking the sea, is the European suburb. There are Anglican and Roman Catholic churches (the Roman Catholic church and mission house is one of the finest buildings in Mombasa), mission schools, Hindu, Parsee, and Mahommedan temples, and hospitals and law courts, the last named completed in 1902. Built into the facade of the courts is a stone with an inscription recording the building of a fort, dedicated to St Joseph, by the Portuguese at Kilindini in 1666. This stone was found in the ruins of Fort St Joseph. Mombasa Fort, or citadel, quadrangular in form, was built by the Portuguese in 1593-1595 (as an inscription in the interior testifies), was dedicated to the Saviour, and known as the Jesus Fort. It bears the symbol I.H.S. The fort was repaired by Seixas de Cabreira in 1635, the restoration being recorded in an inscription over the gateway. By the British authorities the fort is used as a military store and central gaol. In the public garden on the point of the town facing the sea a bronze statue of Sir William Mackinnon to whom Mombasa owes its renaissance has been placed. The population of the city is cosmopolitan, with three well-marked racial distinctions: the Arab (Swahili), the Indian and the European. The climate is fairly healthy, and Europeans live there with comfort.
The harbour at Mombasa is more than a mile in length, but only 1200 ft. in width. It is consequently not so suitable for large ships as Kilindini (" the place of deep water "), which possesses the finest land-locked harbour on the East Coast of Africa. The entrance is about the same width as that of Mombasa, but Kilindini Harbour widens to | m. and is 3 m. long, the depth of water varying from 25 to 30 fathoms. Kilindini is a depot of the British navy. Port Reitz, which opens out of Kilindini Harbour westward, is 4 m. long and i m. broad, with excellent anchorage. At Kilindini is a pier alongside which ships 450 ft. in length and drawing 27 ft. can load and unload cargo. Here is the virtual terminus of the Uganda railway, and the offices, workshops and hospital connected therewith, also a branch customs-house. The Uganda railway crosses to the mainland on a bridge, J m. long, built over the shallow channel which on the north-west separates the island from the continent. Mombasa is the outlet for the produce of a large tract of territory, including the European settlements in the highlands of the protectorate, and by means of the railway to Victoria Nyanza taps the rich regions of the Nile sources. German, British, French and Austrian mailboats call regularly at the port, which is connected by submarine cable with Zanzibar. Trade statistics are included in those of British East Africa (q.v.).
Mombasa Island (named after the town) is 3 m. long by z\ m. broad, with an area of 9 sq. m. Except at the western end, the coast of the island consists of cliffs from 40 ft. to 60 ft. high. The island contains many fertile plantations, chiefly of coco-nut palms, except on the side facing the ocean, where there is little vegetation, the coral reefs being but thinly covered with earth. There are no springs and the island is dependent for water on rain collected in tanks or drawn from wells the latter brackish. Ruins of Arab, Portuguese and Turkish buildings are found in various parts of the island. At Ras Serani are the ruins of a chapel " Nossa Senhora das Merces," built by the Portuguese in the 17th century on the site of a Turkish fort, and afterwards turned into a fort again by the Arabs.
Mombasa takes its name from Mombasa in Oman. A PersoArabic settlement was made here about the 11th century. It is mentioned by Ibn Batuta in 1331 as a large place, and at the time of Vasco da Gama's visit (1498) it was the seat of considerable commerce, its inhabitants including a number of Calicut Banyans and Oriental Christians. The ruler of the city tried to entrap da Gama (or so the Portuguese navigator imagined), and with this began a series of campaigns which gave full force to its Swahili name Mvita (war). The principal incidents are the capture and burning of the place by Almeida (1505), Nuno da Cunha (1529), and Duarte de Menezes (1587) this last as a revenge for its submission to the sultan of Constantinople the revolt and flight (1631) of Yusuf ibn Ahmed (who murdered all the Portuguese in the town over 100), and the three-years' siege by the imam of Omam 1696-98(1116 garrison being reduced to eleven men and two women), ending in the expulsion of the Portuguese. From the 12th of March 1728 to the zgih of November 1 7 29 a Portuguese force from Goa again held Mombasa , when they were finally driven out by the Muscat Arabs. In December 1823 the Mazrui family, who had ruled in Mombasa from the early part of the 18th century, first as representatives of Oman, afterwards as practically independent princes, placed the city under British protection; and in February 1824 Lieut. J. J. Reitz was appointed commandant or resident at the city by Captain (afterwards Vice-Admiral) W. F. W. Owen. Reitz, after whom Port Reitz is named, died at Mombasa either in 1824 or 1825. The protectorate was repudiated by the British government, which left the place to be bombarded and captured by Seyyid Said of Oman, who made repeated attacks between 1829 and 1833, and only got possession in 1837 by treachery. Said thereafter made Zanzibar his capital, Mombasa becoming of secondary importance. A revolt against Zanzibar in 1875 was put down with British assistance. The British government in the following year vetoed a proposal by the khedive Ismail to annex Mombasa and its hinterland up to the equatorial lakes to Egypt a project which originated with General C. G. Gordon, when that officer administered the Upper Nile provinces. In 1887 the city was handed over by the sultan of Zanzibar to the British for administration. It became the capital of the province of Seyyidie and of the East Africa protectorate. In 1907, however , the seat of the central government was removed to Nairobi (q.v.). Mombasa still forms, nominally, part of the sultanate of Zanzibar. The city, together with Malindi, is mentioned in Paradise Lost.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)