Fort Jesus is located along the coastline near the Old Town in Mombasa Island. This fort is one of three cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kenya. It was built between 1593 and 1596 by the Portuguese. In 1958 it was declared a national park and inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2011. Although the design of Fort Jesus is an example of Renaissance architecture, the masonry techniques, building materials and labour are believed to have been provided by the local Swahili people.
The Portuguese recognized the strategic value of positioning the fort on a coral cliff to protect their trade route with India, as well as their East African interests. From this vantage point, the Portuguese were able to detect approaching ships well before the vessels entered the harbor, an advantage that ultimately led to the fort being under an almost constant state of attack for most of its history, including Omani Arabs from 1696 to 1698. Eventually, the Portuguese lost control of their prized Fort Jesus until 1728, only to lose it again a year later. The fort became soldier barracks in 1837 before being used as a prison by the British in 1895. The fort is considered a masterpiece and highlighted as one of the most outstanding and well-preserved examples of 16th-century Portuguese military fortifications.
Fort Jesus is now a popular destination for foreign and local tourists. It is important as a host for numerous research programs, a Conservation Lab, an Education Department, and an Old Town Conservation Office.