Malindi: The home of Vasco da Gama Pillar



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For those keen on taking a pilgrimage, the historical town of Malindi in Kilifi, lying at the mouth of the River Galana along the Indian Ocean Coast of Kenya, is one of the most memorable places to visit.

The town was once referred to as Malinde, and it has existed since at least the 13th century.

The resort town is best known for the Vasco da Gama Pillar, a bell-shaped monument built by the Portuguese in 1498.

This monument is one of the oldest European cenotaphs built on the East African coast in 1498 amid Muslim resistance. It was built by the Portuguese to give direction for those following the sea route to India.

Da Gama was a Portuguese explorer and navigator, the first person to sail directly from Europe to India.

His discovery of the sea route to India made it possible for the Portuguese to establish a long-running colonial empire in Asia.

Other monuments here include Prince Henry the Navigator, the Coastal Heritage Complex, the Portuguese Chapel, the House of Column and Mambrui, a 15th century Arab town located North of Malindi.

Mr Haji Mohamed, the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Malindi curator, says Vasco da Gama Pillar, which is topped by a cross made of Lisbon stone, was rebuilt in the 16th Century after it was brought down.

“It is said that the predominantly Muslim community was uncomfortable with the pillar due to its Christian connotations and brought it down,” he said.

To view the pillar, residents pay Sh100 while non-residents pay Sh500. Children pay half price.

North of the Vasco da Gamma Pillar on Silversand Road lies a quaint makuti-thatched Portuguese Chapel built by Vasco da Gama in 1498 on his epic voyage to India via Malindi.

“The Portuguese Chapel compound contains graves of two sailors buried there in 1542 by St Francis Xavier, who retraced Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India,” Mr Mohamed says.

Since then, 34 other people have been buried here, including the first Malindi British Commissioner Bell Smith in 1894.

On December 3 each year, hundreds of Catholic faithful visit the Chapel to commemorate the feast day of St Francis Xavier, who buried his two sailors and prayed in the chapel while travelling to Goa.

In the same street as the church is the century-old House of Columns, a palatial home which became a hospital, museum and then library.


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