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Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya, surpassed only by the capital city of Nairobi. Mombasa is situated primarily on an island on the Indian Ocean; separated from the mainland by two wide creeks, Tudor Creek and Kilindini Harbour, Mombasa Island was a strategic location guarding access to the interior. The city’s boundaries have spilled over from the island to a stretch of the coastal mainland to the south.

Mombasa has a large port, an international airport, a historical trading center, and a significant tourism economy. The Nyali Bridge connects the island to the mainland to the north, and the Makupa Causeway and the Kenya-Uganda Railway connects it to the west, while the Likoni Ferry connects it to the south.

The first habitation of Mombasa Island goes back to Mwana Mkisi, a pagan queen who founded Kongowea, the first urban settlement on the island. Shehe Mvita supplanted the original settlement, and built the first stone mosque on the island, constructed around 1300 AD.

Not much is known of Mombasa Island or the settlements there prior to the coming of the Portuguese, who wrote about it in the 16th century, although a Moroccan scholar mentioned the city in his journal of his travels to the Swahili Coast in 1331, after staying only one night. Mombasa has a long history, although the exact date of its founding isn’t known. Kenyan history books place the founding of the city as being around 900 AD, and it was noted as a wealthy trade center as early as the 12th century, trading in gold, ivory, and spices. In the late 1800s, Mombasa was a plantation society dependent on slave labor, although there is some dispute over whether it was ever a center for the slave trade. It is clear, however, that Mombasa was an important shipping center before it came under the control of Europeans.

The first recorded visit to Mombasa by a European was Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese explorer, who was met with hostility in 1498. A couple of years later, the Portuguese sacked the city, weakening its power structure. In 1502, the ruling sultanate lost power and became independent. At that time, the city was renamed Mvita, in Swahili. In Arabic, its new name was Manbasa, from which its current name was derived. In 1528, the Portuguese took control of the city. Although they lost their grip on the city during a revolt, the Portuguese took over Mombasa a third time in 1589, constructing Fort Jesus a few years later.

Fort Jesus was built between 1593 and 1596 to guard the original port of Mombasa, and was the only Portuguese fort on the Swahili Coast. Captured and recaptured several times between 1631 and 1895, today the fort is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mombasa, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mombasa became a British Protectorate in 1824 and, although power over the city changed hands a few times, it became the capital of the British Protectorate of Kenya in 1887, until the capital was moved to Nairobi in 1906. Today, of course, Mombasa is a city within the Republic of Kenya, which gained independence from the British in 1963. Mombasa is also a county, which is further divided into six constituencies and thirty wards.

Islam is the primary religion of the people of Mombasa, although the city also has a Roman Catholic population.

As already stated, Fort Jesus is a popular tourist attraction, but Mombasa has several others. Haller Park is a nature park in Bamburi, Mombasa. The park represents the transformation of an old cement production quarry into a sustainable green area. The Mamba village center in Mombasa includes the largest crocodile farm in East Africa, as well as a botanical garden, mangroves, seagrass beds, and a coral reef. Mombasa Marine National Park offers ocean adventures that may include dolphin spotting, deep sea fishing, swimming, boat excursions, and various shows. On the south-southeast part of the island, Old Town Mombasa is also a popular attraction, characterized by narrow streets and Swahili housing. Occupied primarily by Swahili people of Arab origin, its architecture represents a mixture of Arab, Asian, Portuguese, and British influences.

Mombasa Island is the primary residential and business section of the city. Its mainland area consists mostly of lower-class housing districts with a few shops, primary schools, and health clinics, although the Port Reitz suburb includes the Moi International Airport, the Port Reitz District hospital, oil refineries, housing developments, and a beach.

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