Mombasa, one of the oldest settlements in East Africa, has been a trading town, an important area for the trade in spices, gold and ivory, for centuries. The exact day of the foundation of Mombasa is unknown, the town has existed for over 700 years and some proof exists, there are writings of Arab, Egyptian and Roman explorers mentioning Arab settlements in this part of the world.
In 1151, the Arab geographer Al Idrisi describes Mombasa as prosperous trading town. In 1331, the famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta did visit Mombasa, he wrote about the locals: "a religious people, trustworthy and righteous. Their mosques are made of wood, expertly built.". Around 1415, the Chinese explorer Zheng He and his fleet visited Mombasa.
In 1498, Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer, did visit Mombasa; de Gama was not allowed to enter the port. He left and went to Malindi, receiving a great reception. Two years later, the town was sacked by the Portuguese.
In 1502, the town became independent from Kilwa Kisiwani (a community located today in Tanzania). It was named Kisiwa Cha Mvita or simply Mvita (in Kiswahili) or Manbasa (in Arabic).
In 1505, the Portuguese attacked the town; the combat took the lives of around 1513 Mombasa defenders and 5 Portuguese aggressors. Portugal attacked the city again in 1528 and twice more in the 1580s.
In the late 15th century, a fleet of 14 ships sailed into the harbor, starting a massive fire. After initially resisting the Portuguese invasion, the citizens were finally forced to give in the city, after that the Zimba, a warrior people from the Zambezi Valley, massacred the population.
Portuguese built Fort Jesus, which was finished in 1593. Mombasa became the most important African port of Portugal, the port served mainly for slave trades, spices and coffee exchanges. In 1638 the city officially became a Portuguese colony.
In 1698, the town came under the rule of Oman, which appointed Liwali (Governors) until 12 March 1728. On 1728, Mombasa returned under Portuguese rule for what would be the last time. From 1729 to 1746, there was four new Omani Liwali. On 1746, the last Omani Liwali made it independent again.
Mombasa was a British protectorate from 9 February 1824 to 25 July 1826. In the late 19th century, slave labour and ivory caravans became the major source of economic prosperity.
In 1826, Omani dominance was restored. Mombasa was annexed by Zanzibar on 24 June 1837. British influence grew in Mombasa. On 25 May 1887, its administration was relinquished to the British East Africa Association; England turned the Fort Jesus into a prison until 1958. Mombasa became the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate, the area of East Africa controlled by the British.
The Lunatic Express, officially called the Uganda Railway, was built over the period 1895-1901. On 12 December 1963, Mombasa was incorporated to the newly independent state of Kenya.