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The history of Kenya's oldest hotel

The Africa Hotel in Mombasa was built in 1900.

02-07-2020 di redazione

It was 1898, in the port of Mombasa British ships began to arrive from India, loaded with goods and tools to build the famous railway that would connect what was then the first city of Kenya, as well as the most important port in East Africa, with the protectorate of Uganda.
Many of the Queen's subjects had already gone inland and had identified the marshy area that the maasai called Nai'robi (cold water field) as the crossroads of the new railway line.
The ships also carried Indian workers who were already familiar with the work and rhythms imposed by the British and who knew locomotives and rails.
In those days the Kenyans would have called the locomotive simply "gari la moshi" (smoke machine) and the first train "nyoka mweusi kubwa", the big black snake.
Together with settlers and workers, in Mombasa, merchants and adventurers also disembarked from Goa, Calicut and Bombay to try their business in a new land.
It was in this way that a couple of Indian businessmen, who had stayed in Zanzibar where ten years earlier the first inn in East Africa had been successfully opened, decided to open in Vasco Da Gama Road, the main artery of the Old Town that starts from the famous Fort Jesus, what is still remembered today as the first hotel in Kenya.
Today the building keeps in the historical sign and in some details inside, still the history and the evocations of the time, even if it has been used for a long time partly as a museum and partly as a private school, after many years, after being closed and sold, the Africa Hotel has also turned into a grocery store, a school, a room rental.
Nineteen years ago the merchant Yusuf Abdullah bought for two liras the building which had been in need of restoration for some time. After knowing its history and having learned from a book of 1908 how many secrets and implications that mythical building carried with it, he in turn decided to open a hotel. But times had changed, and he later preferred to return to the idea of the museum, which can be visited today.
"When I bought this house, it was very old. There were some tenants who lived here," Yusuf told a local journalist, "but one day a young man came by who had an old book in his hand, telling stories and events that had taken place in this very place. At the same time, officials from the National Museum of Kenya came and posted a wooden board with detailed information about the building and related activities".
This is forged on the inscription: "The first hotel in Kenya began operating in 1901. Visitors are invited inside to see the architecture and a photo gallery that captures those times, as well as the original carved wooden balcony that is 118 years old".
The Africa Hotel was a Portuguese style structure with twelve rooms and a large dining room on the ground floor, which looked like an English dining room.  In 1900 it was the only building facing the sea and its balconies dominated the Mombasa canal. Sir James Sadler Hayes, governor of the protectorate of East Africa from 1906 to 1909, who stayed in what he described as "the oldest hotel in Mombasa".
A guest book also contains complaints, especially from English merchants and officers who complained about the filth of the area (sic!) and the strong smells of fried food, fish and curry.
In the thirties the Africa Hotel changed ownership, a certain Da Souza, an Indian from Goa, bought it and decided to turn it into a grocery store. The many customers had to fall back on two other hotels in the area, such as the nascent Castle, while in Vasco Da Gama Road had already been built other houses that housed consulates, public offices and shops.
Yusuf now lives on the top floor and tourists who return to visit Mombasa's Old Town and its decadent buildings with their carved doors, narrow alleys, markets and souvenir shops have the chance to discover the history of Kenya's oldest hotel.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

TAGS: storia kenyaalbergo kenyastoria mombasahotel kenya

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