Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya. It has a major port and an international airport. The city is the centre of the coastal tourism industry. In Kiswahili it is called Kisiwa ya Mvita, which means "Island of War", due to the many changes in its ownership.

The city has a population of around 900,000 and is located on Mombasa Island, which is separated from the mainland by two creeks; Tudor Creek and Killindini harbour. The island is connected to the mainland to the north by a bridge, to the south by ferry and to the west by a causeway along which runs the Uganda Railway. The port serves both Kenya and countries of the interior linking them to the Indian Ocean.

The town is mainly occupied by the Muslim Miji Kenda/Swahili people but over the centuries there have been many immigrants particularly from the countries of the Middle East and Indian sub-continent. Recent immigrants are peoples from the interior of Kenya brought to the area by opportunities to work in the tourist industry.

Traditional dress for the Swahili women is a brightly coloured, printed cotton sheet called kanga, which may have inspirational slogans printed on it, and type of black headdress and veil called a bui bui. Men wear a type of sarong, which is coloured in bright bands, called a kikoy.

There are several places to visit in Mombasa; Fort Jesus, build by the Portuguese and the Old Town, which is by now in bad need of repair but still shows plenty of examples of the old Arab architecture.


The city was founded by Arab traders in the 11th century and it quickly became the most important trading centre of East Africa mostly exporting ivory and slaves.

Vasco da Gama was the first known European to visit Mombasa, receiving a chilly reception in 1498. Two years later the town was sacked by the Portuguese who built Fort Jesus. The town was taken over by the Sultanate of Oman in 1698.

In 1840 it was taken by the sultan of Zanzibar who in 1898 presented the town to the British. It soon became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate and is the sea terminal of the Uganda Railway, which was started in 1896. Many workers were brought in from British India to build the railway.

Mombasa was part of the state of Zanzibar until 1963 when it was ceded to the newly independent state of Kenya.

In November 2002, a suicide car bomb exploded at the Israeli-owned beachfront Paradise Hotel killing three Israelis and ten Kenyans. An attempt was made to shoot down a tourist plane taking off from nearby Moi International Airport. The main suspect for both attacks is Al Qaeda.

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