Within the walls of Lamu Fort lies more than two centuries of an ancient bloody history well preserved in this massive 2-storey stone structure built beside the 14th century Pwani Mosque reputed to be the oldest known mosque in Lamu.
Accounts of the construction of Lamu Fort are scanty but it is popularly believed Fumomadi, the Sultan of Pate may have started it. Some believe the Mazrui leader, Abdalla bin Hemed, was also involved.
By the time Fumomadi died in 1809, only one storey of the fort had been built. With his death, further construction seems to have been halted until 1813 when Lamu gained unexpected victory over the forces of Pate and Mombasa at the famous Battle of Shela.
Seyyid Said bin Sultan, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (r. 1804–1856), assisted in the renewed construction of Lamu Fort. His growing interest and the prospect of a promising alliance with Lamu could have been a major reason for this support.
Completed more than a decade later around 1821, Lamu Fort marked the southern corner of the old stone town of Lamu and for a while, served as a garrison for Baluchi soldiers sent here by Seyyid Said to protect it.
The fort was later used as a prison by the British colonial regime from 1910. By the 1950s, it was being used to hold Mau Mau detainees. The Kenya government continued to use the fort as a prison until 1984 when it was handed over to the National Museums of Kenya to begin its journey toward becoming the first environmental museum in Africa.
That same year, on May 15 1984, Lamu Fort was declared a scheduled monument and restoration work to reinstate it to its former glory began.
Today the ground floor of Lamu Fort houses a museum with an exhibition which focuses mainly on environmental conservation. The courtyard is used by the local community for meetings, weddings and public performances while the second floor is occupied by offices, laboratories and a workshop and a conference facility that is available for rent.
The fort has a library that boasts an excellent collection of Swahili poetry and reference material on Lamu. But the fort is not only a centre of culture, conservation and poetry. From its ramparts, you are able to get panoramic views of Lamu town.
Interestingly Lamu Fort originally lay on the waterfront, which then ran along the main street of the town. The waterfront has since retreated.