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Kenya Museums
 
 
 
Fort Jesus
Fort Jesus, located on the edge of a coral ridge overlooking the entrance to the Old Port of Mombasa, was built by the Portuguese in 1593 to protect their trade route to India and their interests in East Africa. Designed by an Italian architect, Jao Batisto Cairato, the Fort was his last assignment as Chief Architect for Portuguese possessions in the East, and was the 'crown jewel' of his career; the Fort is today hailed as one of the best examples of 16th century Portuguese military architecture.

Throughout its tumultuous history, the Fort changed hands no less than nine times between the Portuguese and Omani Arabs. When Kenya was made a British Colony, the British government used the Fort as a prison; this was the case until 1958, when the government declared Fort Jesus an historical monument under the National Parks, and later under the NMK. Excavation work was carried out between 1958 and 1962, when the Fort opened its doors to the public as a museum.

Today Fort Jesus is a popular destination for foreign and local tourists, researchers, and students. It receives hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, who come to see not only the impressive fort, but the small exhibit gallery which holds finds from archaeological excavations along the coast, and within the Fort itself, as well as a new exhibit depicting the culture and history of the coast and its peoples. Also on display are artifacts excavated from the underwater shipwreck of the which sank in Mombasa harbour off Fort Jesus in 1697.

Fort Jesus Museum is also important as it is host to numerous a Conservation Lab, an Education department, and an Old Town Conservation Office. There is also a museum gift shop and cafeteria, and guided tours of the Fort are available.
   
 
Hyrax Hill Museum
In 1926, while excavating a nearby site, famed palaeontologist Louis Leakey noted evidence of prehistoric habitation of Hyrax Hill. Eleven years later, his wife and fellow palaeontologist, Mary Leakey, noted several more habitation sites, including a stone walled fort and a group of pits. Mary Leakey began excavating the site in mid 1937 and her work produced evidence of an Iron Age stone walled enclosure and a Neolithic burial mound occupation level.

The results of these numerous excavations yielded three major areas of prehistoric settlement: the oldest dating to 3,000 years and the youngest to possibly two to three hundred years. There was little doubt that the early field work at Hyrax Hill provided a new understanding to an important part of Kenya's prehistory. Because of its significance, the site was proposed as a national monument and confirmed as one in 1943. In 1965 the site was established as a site museum, with a small gallery established at the base of the hill in a house donated by Mrs A. Selfe. It is now one of the regional museums of the NMK, with displays of ethnographic material of the different Rift Valley peoples; Neolithic cultures in the area are represented by excavated materials from the Hyrax Hill sites, and include various types of obsidian tools and a stone platter recovered from a burial site.
 
Jumba la Mtwana
Located approximately 20 kilometres north of Mombasa on Kenya's northern mainland, this site represents the remains of a 13th century Swahili settlement. Abandoned about a hundred years after its foundation, Jumba can still boast magnificent standing remains of domestic houses, mosques and tombs. The domestic houses are rich in carved vidaka (or niches) and arched doors, forming part of the decorative motifs.
While its name literally means "large house of the slave", there is neither historical nor archaeological evidence that suggests that this may have been the case.

A stroll through the ancient ruins provide a sense of what life must have been like over six hundred years ago, when it was home to Swahili fisherman, craftsmen and merchants who traded precious products from the African interior with their maritime trading partners from India and Arabia. Excavations at the site, the most recent being in 1991, have revealed numerous artefacts including decorated local pottery and shell beads, imported Chinese and Islamic ceramics, and glass beads. Located on a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, among giant boabab trees and rich foliage, Jumba is a popular venue for residents and tourists alike.
   
 
Kabarnet Museum
One of the newest of the regional museums, it is set among the Tugen Hills of Baringo District on the western edge of the Rift Valley. Established in the former District Commissioner's residence, this new museum has four main public galleries which feature exhibits on the material culture of the local peoples, Lake Baringo and its environment, indigenous knowledge, and science for education.

In the large surrounding garden are located many old trees, plants and shrubs which will be used to develop interest in plant and tree identification. While the surrounding area is rich in both palaeontological and archaeological sites, most of the fossil sites are found in the lower semi-arid area within the Valley; the best known include Chemera, Ngorora and Chesowanja.
 
 
Kapenguria Museum
This new museum, opened in 1993, reflects Kenya's political development and the attainment of independence by Kenya in 1963. The museum itself is the site where several of the founding fathers of the Kenyan nation were detained during the struggle for independence; they included such figures as Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei and Hon. Ramogi Achieng Oneko. Its exhibits, which include newspaper articles on the Mau Mau movement, photographs and artefacts from the period – give an insight to the sufferings of the many who died during Kenya's struggle for independence.

There is also an Uhuru Memorial Library and the Heroes' Cells where the late president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and others were jailed. Cultural materials of some peoples of Western Kenya are also preserved and conserved. Through displays, Kapenguria Museum has been educating local students on the cultural and material conservation of the Pokot. Traditional homesteads of both Cherengani and Pokot people help show the culture of these people.
 
Karen Blixen Museum
This museum was originally the home of Karen Blixen, who came to Kenya from Denmark in the early part of this century; the present museum site is at the heart of the larger coffee plantation run by Blixen between 1914 and 1931. The house and surrounding land was donated by the Danish government to Kenya at independence; the house was restored by the Danish government and was used during the filming of Out of Africa, which immortalised Karen Blixen's book by the same name. The Museum was opened to the public in 1986.

Much of the original furniture is on display in the house, and combined with the beautifully landscaped gardens and encompassing view of the Ngong Hills, the Museum has continued to be very popular destination for international and local visitors.

The original kitchen has been restored and is now open for viewing. A Dove Stove similar to the one used by Blixen is on display, as are other period kitchen utensils. Reconstruction of the coffee factory as an additional attraction is underway and other early farm machinery is also on display, depicting the early settler life in Kenya
 
Kariandusi
This site, located two kilometres to the east of Lake Elementeita along the main Nairobi-Nakuru highway, is an Acheulian site characterised, like Olorgesailie, by the presence of heavy hand axes and cleavers. A walk through the site takes visitors through several excavation pits, undertaken by Louis Leakey in 1928, each displaying a scattered assortment of stone tools, many made from obsidian: the black volcanic rock found in lava flows. Kenya is well known internationally for her palaeontological and archaeological sites; materials from sites such as Kariandusi are a major source of information about the history of humankind, particularly biological and cultural evolution.

Kariandusi is also important because of the commercial mining activities at the diatomite deposits nearby. The opening of the mines, apart from unveiling more archaeological materials, has made it possible for dating of the site by use of pumice and other datable materials in the sediments. Apart from the open excavation sites, there is a small site museum with displays of excavated fossils and stone tools.
 
Kisumu Museum
Officially opened to the public in 1980 , this museum is located within Kisumu town; it serves not only an educational and recreational centre for visitors, but also as an educational channel on the maintenance and sustainability of the biodiversity of Lake Victoria due to its proximity to this second largest fresh-water lake in the world. Its small yet comprehensive exhibit gallery focuses on displays of material culture of the peoples of the Western Rift valley and Nyanza Province. This includes traditional clothing and adornment, basketry, fishing gear, agricultural tools and hunting weaponry. Also on display are several dioramas, including a lion, De Brazza monkey, and the largest Nile Perch ever caught in Kenya.

Unique to the Kisumu Museum are its natural history exhibits in the form of a fresh-water aquarium, and outdoor snake park and tortoise pens.A visit to the museum is not complete without viewing the 300 year old giant tortoise, imported to Kenya from the Seychelles in 1930. Beyond the exhibit gallery and snake park is a life-size replica of a traditional Luo homestead. The homestead, which represents the houses of the three wives and the eldest wife's first son, and includes livestock pens and a granary, give foreign visitors a unique insight into a traditional Luo home.
 
Kitale Museum
Originally established as a private museum by the late Colonel H. Stoneham, it was bequeathed to the NMK and later opened to the public. Its exhibits include the material culture of the peoples of Western Kenya, prehistory and natural history. A collection of the late Col. Stoneham's publications is maintained by the museum and can be consulted by special request. Thirty acres of museum land are dedicated to a Nature Reserve; this remnant of indigenous riverine tropical forest is home to the rare De Brazza monkey and a number of reptile, mammal and bird species.

A Swedish-sponsored Vi-Agroforestry Centre is based within the land at the Olof Palme memorial building. The biogas plant serves to illustrate the importance of alternative sources of energy in conservation. Also of interest at the museum are replicas of traditional homesteads of the Bukusu, Luo, Turkana and Elgon Maasai peoples. Guided tours of the Museum, Nature Trail and Agroforestry Centre can be arranged, and a well stocked shop sells locally made handicrafts.
   
 
Koobi Fora
Lying on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, Koobi Fora is one of the worlds leading prehistoric sites for the study of the evolution of man. In 1972 the area was gazetted as the Sibiloi National Park. The region is virtually uninhabited except for infrequent visits by nomadic groups such as the Gabbra; wildlife species such as oryx, gerenuk, Grevy's zebra and Somali ostrich can also be seen at times.

A unique wealth of prehistoric remains is found in an area approximately 90 km by 30 km extending from Ileret in the north to just south of Allia Bay. This site was first explored by a team from the National Museums of Kenya led by Dr. Richard Leakey. Many very important fossils have been recovered, including a skull of Homo habilis (KNM-ER 1470), one of the earliest recognised species of the genus Homo.

Since the mid 1970s this area has been the focus of an international Koobi Fora Field School programme in Palaeo-anthropology, now run jointly by Rutgers University and the National Museums of Kenya. There are also camping facilities which can be booked through NMK headquarters in Nairobi.
 
Lamu Museum
Lamu town is the oldest living Swahili town in Kenya, comparable to others such as Zanzibar in Tanzania. Founded around the 13th century, Lamu flourished as a maritime trading centre whose main population, the Swahili, engaged in international trade, fishing and farming. The architecture of Lamu is uniquely Swahili, with its narrow streets, storied buildings, intricately carved wooden doors and numerous mosques.

Lamu is also unique in that it is host to four museums, namely: Lamu Museum , Lamu Fort Environment Museum, German Post Office Museum, and Swahili House Museum. Lamu Museum can arrange guided tours to various archaeological and historical sites, whether to neighbouring Manda Island or farther afield to Pate Island, where the ruins of the earliest known Swahili settlement of Shanga – dated to the 8th century AD – can be visited.
 
Mnarani Ruins
The ruins of the Swahili settlement of Mnarani are located on the south bank of the Kilifi Creek on Kenya's north coast. Among the ruins are a magnificent Pillar Tomb, which was recently dismantled and carefully reconstructed to avoid potential collapse. Also worth seeing are the remains of a large Friday [or congregational] Mosque and several tombs dating to the 15th century. An hour's drive north of Mombasa, this site museum – with its scenic view of the creek and its many sailing and fishing craft – provides an excellent picnic venue.
 
Narok Museum
The NMK has set up this new museum with pictures and artifacts to preserve the beauty and strength of the rich cultural traditional culture of the Maasai and other speakers of the Maa language, for a better understanding by the whole community.

The Maa speakers in Kenya comprise the Maasai (Narok and Kajiado District), Samburu (Samburu and Laikipia District), Njemps (Baringo District) and groups of Ndorobo who are neighbours of Maasai.
The collection of cultural artefacts forms the heart of the exhibition. The different categories provide insight and information on the traditional lifeztyles of Maasai and Samburu.

On the other side of town, next to Narok Stadium, the NMK acquired a site with an exceptional natural beauty in a well preserved bend of the Engere Narok River. At the dawn of the 21th century, this site will host the proposed full-fledged Museum of Maa Cultures, a museum complex with collection facilities, a cultural centre with community meeting rooms, library, workshops, bandas, etc. The NMK, Narok Town Council and Maa Development Association are partners in this major project, that will have its impact far beyond the region.
 
Olgorgesailie
This Acheulian site is located about 90 kilometres south-west of Nairobi on the road to Magadi. The drive all the way to Magadi is characterised by beautiful panoramic views leading up to the shoulder of the Ngong Hills and descending onto the floor of the Rift Valley. The site of Olorgesailie, donated to the Kenyan Government by the Maasai community, covers an area of 52 acres. First discovered by Mary Leakey in 1942, this site was excavated continuously between 1942 and 1947. The area continues to be under investigation to this date, with a team from the Smithsonian Institution, USA, making annual surveys and excavations. Olorgesailie is the largest of the National Museums' prehistoric sites, and is characterised by in situ displays of prehistoric materials, including numerous hand axes and fossilised skeletons of extinct species of elephant and a hippopotamus.

The small but excellent site museum at Olorgesailie was recently renovated, and holds exhibits on human evolution, stone tools, and site formation. A raised wooden catwalk has been built around an impressive in situ display of stone tools and animal fossils, all dating from 1.2 million years ago. Also at the site is a large picnic shade and four camping cottages, which can be booked through NMK headquarters in Nairobi.
 
Railway Museum
Now privately run, Nairobi’s Railway Museum is a natural draw for rail fans. It’s signposted ten minutes walk from the railway station. The main hall contains a mass of memorabilia: photos of early stations, of the “lunatic express” East African Railway from Mombasa to Kampala being built, and the engineering feats involved in getting the carriages up and down the escarpment and the strange pieces of hardware, such as the game-viewing seat mounted at the front of the train. In the Museum annexe, the motorized bicycle inspection trolley is quite a sight but, as the write-up explains, the experiment in the 1950’s “was not really successful”, as the wheels kept slipping off the rail.

Outside, exposed to the elements, is the museums collection of old locomotives, most of them built in Britain.

Lions figure predominantly in the early history of the Uganda Railway. Look in the shade for the first class coach no.12 to learn the story of Superintended C. H. Ryall. During the hunt for the “man eaters of Tsavo” in 1898, Ryall had readied his gun one evening, settled down in the carriage and offered himself as bait. Unfortunately, he nodded off and was dragged from his carriage and devoured while colleagues sat frozen in horror. The coach together with the repainted loco no.301 took part in the filming of the movie “Out of Africa” at Kajiado.
 
Siyu Fort
Siyu is one of the Swahili settlements in the Lamu archipelago, and has a history dating from at least the 15th century. The present village of Siyu is still known for its well established leather craft, including sandals, belts and stools. It became famous in the late 19th century, when it resisted Omani domination, culminating in the building of a Fort as an effort by the Omani Arabs to subdue the residents of Siyu. Apart from the impressive fort, which is open to the public, Siyu is also host to the remains of magnificent tombs and mosques.
 
Takwa Ruins
The ruins of Takwa are located on Manda Island, a 30 minute boat ride from Lamu town. Here one can witness the remains of a thriving 16th century Swahili trading post. Among the more notable features at Takwa is the unique Friday Mosque with a large pillar atop the qibla wall; while the significance of the pillar is not known with certainty, some believe it to symbolise the burial of a Sheikh below the wall. A day's visit is quite a unique experience, and can be complimented by a picnic or overnight camping.
 
The National Museum
The museums most extensive collections are Ornithological with most of Kenya’s thousand-plus species of birds represented. Kenya’s birdlife usually makes a strong impression, even to the non-bird-watchers. Look out for the various species of hornbills, turacos and rollers and for the extraordinary standard-wing nightjar, which is frequently seen fluttering low over a swimming pool at dusk, hunting for insects. There are also dioramas of Kenyan mammals in the large mammal room, casts of fish, even a whale skeleton, as well as the skeleton and a fiberglass replica of Ahmed, the famous elephant from Marsabit.

The geology gallery is a mine of information on plate tectonics and the life cycle of volcanoes, with a good collection of rocks and minerals that you might see especially if you visit the Rift valley. The Gallery of the contemporary East African Art is an exhibition for principally Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Ugandan artists to display their works and wares. It’s also become an increasingly popular venue for foreign embassies in Nairobi to mount exhibitions from their own countries.

The prehistory Gallery where the paleontology exhibits are housed has walls disguised with stunning reproductions of a series of Tanzanian rock paintings. Ahead, on the floor, is a cast of wide–splayed, human-looking footprints-two walking side by side and the third in the prints of one of the others- which were discovered at Laetoli in Tanzania. They belong to Australopithecines and were squeezed in to the mud about 3,500,000 years ago. Down the hall, eerily life-size reconstructions of a family of Homo erectus {rather like a scene from planet of the apes.} wolfing down an antelope carcass bring the story of human evolution vividly to life.

There’s separate display telling the story of lake Turkana Koobi fora excavations-“ The origin of man in Kenya” on the ground floor to the right of the prehistory gallery entrance. The ethnographic exhibits contain some fascinating odds and ends. Don’t miss the Maasai ear-stretching devices, and the “Divining sandals” made of elephant hide tanned in dung and urine. The collections indicate the tremendous diversity of Kenya’s cultures.

The Lamu gallery provides an excellent introduction to the Swahili culture.
 
Thimlich Ohinga
Declared as a National Monument in 1983, Thimlich Ohinga serves as an example of the dry stone enclosures widespread in the South Nyanza area of Western Kenya. Similar in construction to the well known ruins of Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa, the Thimlich Ohinga structures represent some of the finest examples in East Africa.

About 46 kilometres northwest of Migori town in Nyanza Province lie these striking stone wall enclosures nestled among the trees and shrubs of a gently sloping hill. From a distance the hill seems more like a forest, with Euphorbia candelabrum towering above all the other trees and shrubs. From here, one can see how the hill got its name: in the DhoLuo language spoken in Nyanza Province, 'Thimlich' means literally 'frightening dense forest'. As one moves closer to the hill, it seems less like a forest. Winding along a narrow car track, one comes to a small, traditional Luo homestead. Behind this compound, and on the rest of the hill, lie the enclosures whose architecture is not only captivating but is also unique. The homestead and its adjacent enclosures form the Thimlich Ohinga Prehistoric Site.

The site's name combines the description of the hill as seen from a distance of the hill from a distance ('Thimlich'), and the presence of stone enclosures (Ohinga-sing./Ohingni-pl.) on the hill. It is most likely that when researchers from the National Museums of Kenya began working at this site in 1980, the hill was much more forested than it is today.

In addition to its scenic location, the site is famous mainly for its stone wall enclosures which were built around 500 years ago. They are the results of the Late Iron Age (LIA) settlers in the Lake Victoria region. The first communities to settle here, mainly of Bantu origin, introduced this stone building tradition to meet their security requirements and also to exploit the environmental resources effectively: abundant rocks on the hilly areas were a ready resource to construct complex villages or cities. As a result, both early (Bantu) and later (Nilotic) settlers in the region constructed about 521 enclosures in 139 localities in the entire Lake Victoria region.

Thimlich is well placed in the south-western tourist circuit, and forms a perfect stop-over for those on their way to or from the nearby Ruma National Game Park, Gogo Falls, the Macalder gold mines, and even the distant but well-linked Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
 
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