Tourists visiting Malindi town in Kilifi County have a reason to smile after the Vasco Da Gama pillar which dates back to 1498 was opened to the public after a major facelift.
Tourists and residents were blocked from accessing the pillar for close to two years to allow for refurbishment works to save it from erosion and possible collapse.
When on a tour of the facility that is under the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), visitors meet a line of traders near the entrance to deter hawking.
There is a well-paved and decorated footpath inside and the newly painted pillar is reinforced by a gigantic ocean wall that prevents ocean water from spilling onto the pillar.
It also has modern toilets, areas for people living with disabilities, sitting areas, and general beautification to make the site more attractive.
The government spent a whooping Sh59 million on the project that is part of the Malindi tourist circuit which includes the Portuguese Chapel, the Seafarers Monument, and the House of Columns.
Malindi MP Ms Amina Mnyazi also donated portable market stalls for the traders hence adding to the beauty of the tourist site.
Mrs Ruth Kombe, a trader at the Vasco Da Gama Pillar who sells artefacts and Mijikenda traditional skirts popularly known as ‘the hando’, said that the portable stalls are so presentable and good for their business.
“We expect this season to have more tourists and there will be more guests. Now we have begun promoting culture so as to attract more guests and I sell pareo, African artifacts and handos which I also rent out at a fee to visitors who want to take pictures while wearing them,” she said.
Ms Charity Mwende, also a trader at the entrance of the pillar, said that business was good and urged Kenyans to visit Malindi for a lifetime experience.
“Ever since we were assisted with these stalls by our MP, we are now organised and business is robust. The foreign tourists spend good money on our products compared to the Kenyan tourists but the number of foreigners has continued to shrink hence we urge more Kenyans to visit us and see the pillar,” she said.
A curio seller Mr Kyalo Nyamai, said that they were optimistic that tourism will boom soon following the restoration of the Vasco Da Gama pillar and the new facelift.
The NMK Curator in charge of the Malindi Museum Ms Doris Kamuye said that the Vasco Da Gama pillar was the oldest monument in Africa built in 1498 when the Portuguese were traversing the ocean to find the sea route to India.
She explained that the government had invested heavily to restore the monument, including the sea wall to prevent the pillar from collapsing.
She said that part of the funds was used to set up parapet walkways, an abolition block and a pavement to enable people with disabilities to access the monument and add to their visitors’ comfort.
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“Visitors in Malindi have the advantage of using one ticket to access four national monuments that are part of the Malindi Tourist Circuit,” she said.
They include the heritage complex, at the Museum, which showcases Coastal Ethnography, cultural information, the house of columns, the Portuguese chapel and the Vasco Da Gama Pillar.