Mombasa means City of the Moors

“The “City of Moors” in Kenya is also called the Old Town of Mombasa is the second largest city of Kenya.” See 129 best Kenya images on Pinterest | Mombasa Kenya, East Africa. “When the King of Portugal discovered this land, the Moors of Sofala, Zuama (Zambesi) and Angochi and Mozambique were all under obedience to the king of Kilwa who was a great king among them. The people are Moors of a dusky colour and some of them are black and some white, they are very well dressed with rich cloths of gold and silk and cotton. The same authority describes the prosperity of Mobassa: ” A city of the Moors very large and beautiful and built of high and handsome houses of stone and whitewash and with very good streets like those of Kilwa.” See “The Red Book,”: The Directory of East Africa, Uganda & Zanzibar

“Gaspar Correa describing Vasco da Gama’s arrival in Kilwa stated:  “The city comes down to the shore, and is entirely surrounded by a wall and towers, within which there are maybe 12,000 inhabitants. The country all round is very luxurious with many trees and gardens of all sorts of vegetables, citrons, lemons, and the best sweet oranges that were ever seen… The streets of the city are very narrow, as the houses are very high, of three and four stories, and one can run along the tops of them upon the terraces… and in the port, there were many ships. A moor ruled over this city, who did not possess more country than the city itself.”  See The Story of Africa 

“Mombasa is an island in the Indian Ocean and Kenya’s second largest city after the capital, Islandness on the Urbanism and Architecture of Mombasa Nairobi. By the 12th Century, it was an established Swahili trading town, first described by the Arab geographer Al Idrisi in 1151 and subsequently by the Moroccan traveler, Ibn Battuta, who visited it in 1331. The inhabitants, white and black Moors (pure Arabs and half-castes), according to Justus Strandes (1961: 79) were Swahilis. Ivory, leopard skins and slaves were among the exports to India and the Arab Peninsula, while porcelain, metal artifacts and cloth were amongst the imports. Mombasa at that time was the centre of the Indian Ocean cloth trade (Pearson, 1998: 48).” See The Impacts of Islandness on the Urbanism and Architecture of Mombasa

“Grydehøj (2014: 185) classifies Mombasa as one of the “densely populated small islands.” Maps made during the 1600s clearly indicate the settlement of the Portuguese as a walled compound adjacent to and directly north of the fort, the area known today as the Old Town (Figure 7). The distinctly separate settlement marked as Cida de dos Mouros (English: Town of the Moors), about a kilometer to the north of the Portuguese compound, shows the Swahili settlement at that time, in the area today known as Mzizima (Aldrick, 1995: 11). After the Portuguese conquest, the Sultan of Malindi, a Portuguese ally and bitter enemy of the Mombasa rulers, moved into the existing Swahili town, known then as Mvita (Aldrick, 1995: 12).”See The Impacts of Islandness on the Urbanism and Architecture of Mombasa

” From the island of Zanzibar, we went to Mombasa, which is also an island but is set in the mainland like Goa, though the sea beats upon a part of it. It has a very good and safe port, which is most convenient; it is about two leagues in circumference and has its Moor [ruler] like the others and a large and populous city. There is an abundance of fruit of thorny trees, and the oranges of Mombasa are celebrated, but we did not find them so good. Here at the entrance are the foundations of a fort which the viceroy Dom Pedro [Mascarenhas] commanded to be built to guard the port, but the work was not continued, neither was the culture of Christianity which our people then pretended to establish there, because of the Moors…” See Records of South-Eastern Africa: collected in various libraries …, Volume 3

“While the ship was high and dry, two almadias approached us. These boats brought sweet, fine, oranges, better than those in Portugal. Two Moors remained on board the ship and accompanied us the next day to a city, which is called Mombasa. On Saturday morning, the 7th of that month, and the eve of Palm Sunday, we cruised along the coast and saw some islands. They were about fifteen leagues out to sea from the mainland, and six leagues lengthwise on average. On these islands, there are many trees suitable for the mast, and so they outfit their ships with the mast from these islands. They are all inhabited by Moors. As sunset approached [7 April] we dropped anchor in front of the city of Mombasa but did not enter the port. As soon as we arrived, a zarva came out to us, filled with Moors. In front of the city, there were many ships all dressed with their standards. In front of the city, there were many ships all dressed with their standards. Not wishing to be outdone, we did the same to our ships, and even more, for we wanted for nothing save men, for even the few that we had were very ill. We anchored here with much pleasure since it seemed to us that the next day we would go ashore to hear mass with the Christians, which they had told us lived here, in a quarter separate from the Moors with their own alcaide.” <i>Em nome de Deus</i>: The Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama to India …

In 1569 Pate was said to have had “large commerce with Mecca and other parts. The city is very large and has many fine edifices. The Moorish priest was the chief of all the coast. It is a very large Moorish city and a different trade is carried on, for there are very rich silk cloths from which the Portuguese derive great profits in the other Moorish cities where they are not to be had because they are only manufactured at Pate and are sent to the others from that place. The Portuguese exchange iron ware beads and cotton cloth which the people Pate do not possess for these silks. Ships from India]142) resort to this city. It is a separate kingdom (Freeman-Grenville[1962]142). See A Comparative Study of Thirty City-state Cultures: An Investigation edited by Mogens Herman Hansen

The ruling classes were ‘white and black moors’, i.e. pure Arabs and half-castes. Indians engaged in commerce complete the population. (Strandes 1961: 79) Mombassa was subjected to Malindi rule after a failed attack on Malindi in 1590, in which the last Sheikh Mvita (the city’s hereditary ruler) died. Subsequently, the Shiekh of Malindi, his clan and ‘a good part of Malinda’s population’ moved to Mombasa in 1593 (Berg 1968:45). See Philosophizing in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam and Intellectual Practice on the …By Kai Kresse


“The people of this country are of a ruddy complexion and well made. They are Mohammedans, and their language is the same as the Moors. Their dresses are fine linen or cotton stuff, with variously coloured stripes, and of rich and elaborate workmanship. They all wear toucas with borders of silk embroidered in gold. They are merchants, and have transactions with white Moors [i.e., Indians], four of whose vessels were at the time in port, laden with gold, silver, gloves, pepper, ginger and silver rings, as also with quantities of pearls, jewels, and rubies, all of which articles are used by the people of this country.[…] These Moors, moreover, told us that along the route which we were about to follow we should meet with numerous shoals; that there were many cities along the coast, and also an island one half the population which consisted of Moors and the other half of Christians who were at war with each other. The island was said to be very wealthy. We were told, moreover, that Prester John resided not far from the place, that he held many cities along the coast, and that the inhabitants of those cities were great merchants and owned big ships. The residence of Prester John was said to be far in the interior and could be reached only on the back of camels. These Moors had also brought hither two Christian captives from India. This information, and many other things which we heard rendered us so happy that we cried with joy, and prayed God to grant us health so that we might behold what we so much desired.” See A History of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450-1990: A …edited by Klaus Koschorke, Frieder Ludwig, Mariano Delgado, Roland Spliesgart

It is not very clear how the trade with the interior was organized. There is a reference to “silent barter” in an early period, but by the time the Portuguese arrived there is evidence of traders moving in both directions. In 1506, the factor at Sofala Diogo da Alcacova wrote that “a Kaffir of the interior of Menapotaque [Mwene Mutapa] was the first to come to this fortress and factory to trade gold for . . . two yards of glazed Brittany cloth and two red barrels of beads.” He said that “when the land was at peace three or four ships took from Sofala each year a million of gold, and sometimes 1,300,000 miticals of gold.” He went on to say that peace could be restored only through the influence of the king of Sofala or Kilwa, showing the continuing influence of the Swahili rulers in the African interior.56 It is also clear that much of the information recorded by the Portuguese about the interior as far as the Great Zimbabwe was derived from “Moorish” (Muslim—Swahili, Arab) traders who had visited it. Barbosa describes “Zimbaoche” as a great town 15 to 20 days inland from Sofala, but by then the reigning Mwene Mutapa was living six days away, where traders exchanged colored cloths and beads from Cambay for gold that came from farther away. The Portuguese chronicler João de Barros says in 1538 that Symbaoe “in the opinion of the Moors who saw it is very ancient and was built to keep possessions of the mines, which are very old, and no gold has been extracted from them for years, because of the wars.”57In the early 16th century, the Portuguese chronicler Correa said that the people of Sofala “were native Kaffirs who turned Moors owing to their dealings and friendship with foreign Moorish merchants who came to Sofala to trade.” Barbosa confirmed that at Sofala “the Moors were black, and some of them tawny; some of them speak Arabic, but the more part uses the language of the country.” He added that it was a busy port visited by merchants in their small dhows from Kilwa, Mombasa, and Malindi, bringing many cotton cloths, silk, and beads imported from Cambay, exchanging them for gold and ivory from the kingdom of Mwana Mutapa in Zimbabwe. See The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds to c. 1500 by Abdul Sheriff