Mombasa’s Old Town hangs on to the past with the tenacity of a spider’s web that is hooked to a wall.
Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of once being Imperial British East Africa Company’s (IBEAC) administrative centre.
Or maybe it’s because it’s still Mombasa County’s administrative capital, hosting its Assembly at the former Municipal Council offices, the municipal court, deputy county commissioners office, Mombasa Law Courts and the governor’s office, which once hosted Kenya’s second post office.
At any rate, the place is steeped in history. Treasury Square, the administrative heart of colonial Kenya in its nascent days, served as the nerve centre of colonial activities for decades.
When the iconic building was opened in 1901, at the heart of its compound was erected the statue of Sir William Mackinnon (1823-1893), who founded IBEAC — the forerunner of the East African Protectorate that later became Kenya.
At Independence, the statue was pulled down, leaving that of Allidina Visram, which had stood side by side with it for decades since September 9, 1937 when it was unveiled by governor Robert Brooke-Pophah (1937-1939).
Allidina was a wealthy Indian-born merchant who established himself at the Coast and whose love for education was so legendary that a school, Allidina Visram High School, was named after him.
He died in 1916 in Kampala, Uganda.
On his statue, there is a plaque that reads: “Mr Visram arrived in East Africa in 1863. He was a leading Indian merchant and planter in the region. Also, he was one of the pioneers who helped open up the country to trade and civilisation in the early days.”
Old Town is a labyrinthine maze of narrow streets and twisting alleyways.
The aura of colonial influence pervades its culture and architecture: from British, to Goan, Portuguese and Arab-Swahili.
Remarkable buildings include Fort Jesus, the Old Law Courts, the Alien Registration Building, the magnificent Mandhry Mosque dating back to the 1830s, and Government Square.
Others are the Old Port, The Africa Hotel, one of the very first hotels at the Coast and which was owned by Goans Junior and Diaz in 1904, among many others.
Treasury Square stands out for its amazing architecture, which signifies the different influences that have moulded the town over the years.
Notable among these is the municipal offices and, just opposite the Kenya Commercial Bank building.
In the compound are several indigenous trees under whose shade locals and visitors relax.
Also in the 100-by-300-metre area are various exotic trees and plants in a botanical enclave called Burhani Gardens.
At the heart of the garden is a fountain, whose taps are sometimes dry due to persistent water shortages, but it does make for a breathtaking sight when the water runs.
The county has taken steps to ensure that Treasury Square remains pristine. Hawkers, for one, are banned from the area.
There is a deliberate effort to maintain cleanliness as well as the ambience of the place by providing comfortable seats and rubbish bins.
Treasury Square Garden is also easily accessible by various means of transport.
One can walk to the site, use a tuk-tuk or private cars. There is ample and secure parking.
“Our city is full of historical sites and as county, we are working hard to ensure that these areas are protected,” says county communications director Richard Chacha.
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