But it was also an era of strife between the Catholic Portuguese and theMuslim Arabs. Portuguese hegemony was finally extinguished with thecapture of Fort Jesus by the Arabs in 1699 just over a hundred years after itwas built. The next hundred years was a miserable record of petty warsbetween the minor sultans and of maladministration by the Omani Arabsbased in Muscat. Trade, except in slaves, came to a halt until an army wassent, in 1822, by the Sultan of Oman to crush the warring states and re-establish commercial activity.Some form of Arab government existed in what became known as thecoastal strip until the region was declared a British sphere of influencefollowing the treaty of Berlin in 1885. The town of Mombasa is built on anisland. Less than a century ago the builders of what was then called theUganda railway attached the island to the mainland by a causeway. To thenorth a new toll bridge spans Tudor Creek, with views of the old harbour,linking the town with the north coast beach resorts. On the south side afrequent car and passenger ferry service plies across Kilindini Creek, closeto the entrance to the modern port area with its multitude of wharfs anddeep water berths, carrying tourists to the spendid beaches of the southcoast. Mombasa town itself is a mystical mixture of ancient and modernwith a cosmopolitan population blending Africa, Arabia, Asia and Europe.The people who live in this old but vibrant gateway to Kenya and Africa nownumber almost 600,000.
Fringing the dhow harbor is the old town, a maze of narrow streets andpedestrian lanes with quaint shuttered houses and open fronted shops. Thesmell of spices is always present. Dominating the entrance to the dhowharbor is Fort Jesus, which is open to visitors and which houses aninteresting museum displaying antiquities from the length of the KenyaCoast. Also on display are finds from the Portuguese warship the SantaAntonio D'Atanna which sank near the fort in 1697 while attempting toraise the Arab seige. A wide array of African crafts and curios, together withsome antiques, are available from shops and sidewalk vendors, but ashopping highlight is a visit to Biashara Street where the shops compete forthe purchaser's eye, and his pocket, with dazzling displays of locally wovenfabrics and prints. Visitors find a visit to the Kamba carvers village near theairport a worthwhile experience. Scores of carvers can be seen at work andone can follow the progress of a carving from log to the completed artistry.There is a shop selling the finished works. From Mombasa it is possible tomake short excursions to many of the beach resorts or alternatively to seekthe cool air of the Shimba Hills. There are several interesting archaeologicalsites nearby especially Jumba la Mtwana - the Slavemaster's house - a well-maintained ruin with one of four mosques although virtually intact slippingimperceptibly into the ocean. To reach Jumba you cross Mtwapa Creekwhere there is a substantial aquarium with an underwater viewing tunneldisplaying sharks, rays and other fascinations from the nearby ocean.