After your visit in any of Kenya’s national parks and reserves such as MAASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE, AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK, SAMBURU NATIONAL RESERVE and TSAVO EAST & WEST NATIONAL plus many others, you are highly advised to take a visit to some of Kenya’s eco sites for a great and memorable Kenya tour. The following are some of Kenya’s UNESCO world heritage eco sites;
Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley: it is surrounded by geological and biological processes of exceptional natural beauty such as marshes, falls, open grasslands, hot springs, geysers and volcanic outcrops plus consisting of three alkaline lakes such as; Lake Bogoria (10,700 acres), Lake Nakuru (18,800 acres) and Lake Elementaita (2,534 acres) of which these three Lakes are perched on the floor of the great rift valley where the major tectonic and volcanic events have formed a distinctive landscape. The area has some of the highest concentrations of bird species in the world including; over 100 species of migratory birds such as Black-Necked Grebe, African Spoonbill, Pied Avocet, and Full Billed Tern. Throughout the year, almost 4 millions of the Lesser Flamingos move between the three shallow lakes looking for food (algae) however the area is also a habitant for the Great White Pelicans.
The three alkaline lakes constituting the property represent the most significant Rift Valley lakes within Kenya and are an essential component of those in the Great Rift Valley as a whole. Each of the three components of the property is gazetted as a protected area and whilst the property is of small size, it contains the main ecosystems and features which support its Outstanding Universal Value.
Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests: it consists of 11 separate forest sites mostly on low hills and ranging in size from 30 acres to 300 acres. These 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 kilometers along the coast and still the Mijikenda Kaya Forests contains the ruins of numerous kayas (fortified villages) of the Mijikenda people. The kayas were constructed in the 16th century but abandoned in the 1940s as people began to move away to surrounding towns and cities of which the major impact was due to deforestation of the surrounding areas. Similar sites on land that was once considered communal was registered to individual owners and sold to national or foreign speculators. The Mijikenda now regard these dwellings as the homes of their ancestors and are thus revered as sacred sites.
Fort Jesus: it was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century thus Fort Jesus was Europe’s first successful attempt to rule the Indian Ocean trade routes. The structure of the fort reflects Renaissance military architecture as well as influences from the African, Arab, Turkish, and Persian cultures all of which fought to gain control over this strategic fort.
Fort Jesus is now a popular destination for foreign and local tourists. As well as a tourist destination, the Fort is important as a host for numerous research programs, a Conservation Lab, an Education Department and an Old Town Conservation Office.
It was declared a historical monument in 1958 and nowadays it houses a museum. The fort was designed by a Milanese architect known as Giovanni Battista Cairati who was the Chief Architect for Portuguese possessions in the East. It was the first European-style fort constructed outside of Europe designed to resist cannon fire. Currently, it is one of the finest examples of 16th-Century Portuguese military architecture which has been influenced and changed by both the Omani Arabs and the British.
The fort tremendously became a vital possession for anyone with the intention of controlling Mombasa Island or the surrounding areas of trade. When the British colonized Kenya, they used it as a prison until 1958 when they converted it into a historical monument. James Kirkman was then assigned to excavate (hollow) the monument which he did (with a large use of external historical documents) from 1958 to 1971.
The architecture of the fort represents the rough outline of a person lying on their back with the head towards the sea. The height of the walls is 18 meters. The original Portuguese fort had a height of 15 meters but the Oman Arabs added 3 meters upon capturing the fort.
The fort combines Portuguese, Arabs, and British elements (these being the major powers that held it at different times in history). The Portuguese and British presence is preserved in the presence of their respective cannons. The Portuguese cannons had a range of 200 meters and are longer than the British cannons which had a range of 300 meters. Oman Arabs marked their occupancy with numerous inscriptions from the Koran on the wooden door posts and ceiling beams. The Muslim tradition of five pillars is also portrayed throughout the fort with a former meeting hall supported by five stone pillars to the ceiling.
Some of the historical structures still standing in the fort include Oman House of which it was the house for Sultan who governed the East African coast. However, others are; an open water cistern by the Portuguese for harvesting rain water and a 76-foot deep well sunk by the Arabs though its water was too salty to be used for anything rather than washing.
Lamu Old Town: the town was created in the 14th century by Arab traders in ivory, spices and slaves thus being Kenya’s oldest town and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. The town’s architecture reflects a unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian and European building styles. Structures such as the inner courtyards, verandas and elaborately carved wooden doors were built out of coral stone and mangrove timber. It has hosted major Muslim religious festivals since the 19th century and has become a significant center for the study of Swahili and Islamic cultures. Its streets are too narrow for cars hence the best modes of transportation are either by donkey or by dhows (traditional wooden sailing vessels). Thus, it is highly recommended to hire one (dhow) out for a cruise around the Lamu archipelago since the town is situated on an Island.
With a core consisting of a collection of buildings on 16 hectares, Lamu has maintained its social and cultural integrity as well as retaining its authentic building fabric up to the present day. Being the most important trade centre in East Africa, Lamu has exercised an important influence in the entire region in religious, cultural and in technological expertise. Lamu is a conservative and close-knit society which has retained its important status as a significant centre for education in Islamic and Swahili culture as illustrated by the annual Maulidi and cultural festivals. Leaving alone the other Swahili settlements which have been abandoned along the East African coast, Lamu has continuously existed for over 700 years.
The growth and decline of the seaports on the East African coast and interaction between the Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians and Europeans represents a significant cultural and economic phase in the history of the region which finds their most outstanding expression in Lamu Old Town expressed by the town’s architecture and town planning. The buildings of the town on the seafront with their arcades and open verandas provide a unified visual impression of the town when approaching it from the sea. While the vernacular buildings are internally decorated with painted ceilings, large niches (madaka), small niches (zidaka) and pieces of Chinese porcelain. The buildings are well preserved and carry a long history that represents the development of Swahili building technology based on coral, lime and mangrove poles.
The architecture of Lamu has employed locally available materials and techniques which are still applied to date. The people of Lamu have managed to maintain age-old traditions reinforcing a sense of belonging and social unity. This is expressed by the layout of the town which includes social spaces such as porches (Daka), town squares and sea front barazas.
Lamu Old Town is managed by the National Museums and Heritage Act 2006 and the Local Governments Act. Physical construction is also subjected to the EMCA Act and the 2006 Planning Act which recognize that archaeology is a material for consideration. The Old Town has a gazetted buffer zone that includes the Manda and Ras Kitau mangrove skyline and the Shela sand dunes which are also protected by the Forest Act and Water Act respectively. Though the buffer zone has not been formally approved by the World Heritage Committee, but all the components are legally protected.
The Lamu World Heritage Site and Conservation Office (formerly Lamu Stone Town Conservation Office) was established by the National Museums of Kenya and has been in operation since 1986. A conservation officer is seconded to Lamu County Council to advice on conservation matters. A planning commission exists since 1991 to play a supervisory role and address emerging issues in the conservation area. There exists a conservation plan for Lamu Old Town which is used as a guide in balancing the community needs for development and sustaining the architectural values of the town. Thus the property is in a satisfactory state of conservation and the locally embedded institutions ensure the continued importance of Lamu as a centre of Islamic and Swahili cultural learning and practices.