Old Kampala is located south west of the major city centre. The hill is named after the numerous impalas that once lived here and lends its name to the rest of the city. At this hill is where the city was first established before spreading to other areas due to rural urban migration.
In 1889, it was the camp of Captain Fredrick Lugard from Britain. Britain had sent Lugard, a Senior British Commissioner for the Imperial British East African Company to secure their predominance in Uganda. On December 18, 1890, Lugard arrived at Kabaka Mwanga Palace, on Mengo hill. He was to quickly establish British authority in Uganda before the Germans. He opted to move further uphill with his people; 270 porters, 50 ill-trained Sudanese and Somali soldiers. He said in one of his diaries, “I went on top of a low gravely knoll of wasteland and I said I would camp there”. Considering the religious strife between the Catholics and Protestants, Lugard decided to establish a military presence. He built a fort that occupied the whole parameter of the hill. On January 15, 1891, the big house for the Europeans was completed. It was made up of upright logs of date palm fitted close together. Other houses were smaller and built with mud. The fort was made tenable by digging a wide trench and embattlement at the bottom. Here, Lugard raised the company flag. The British christened it Fort hill as it served as the colonial government seat.
Old Kampala is most notable today as the focal point of Kampala’s Islamic community and imposing new mosque. It was initiated by Idi Amin dada in the 1970s but the project stalled after the overthrow of the dictator and was only completed in 2006 with funds provided by the late Libyan leader colonel Muarmar Gadaffi. Today it is an incredible worship house which is a great attraction and best view point for Kampala.
The mosque is the biggest in Uganda and the second largest in Sub Saharan Africa. A tour of the site is therefore highly recommended, visit the main hall and ascend the minaret. Ladies are required to wear Muslim clothes or will be provide with skirts and scarves by the guide to cover up before entering the hall. It comprises of two floors and thus two halls. The ground floor is where everyday prayers are said and the upper floor is open for events in the Muslim community. The upper floor is more rewarding and is divided into the inside which is for the men and the balcony for women.
The hall is an imposing space which carpeted but otherwise not furnished is dominated by a forest of massive columns that support the roof and copper dome. European, Arab and African influences meld with Italian stained windows, Ugandan timber and an Arabian mosaic on the underside on the dome above a massive and magnificent metal chandelier.
Inside the minaret, 360 steps spiral upwards to provide a superbly giddy 360 degrees view over the city. Part of the complex but accessed from old Kampala road is a period building with a vaguely Arcadian frontage. This is an approximation of a historic building which was unfortunately demolished to make way for the mosque parking.
Though widely known as old fort it was built some years after Lugard’s occupation in 1908 and was actually Kampala’s first museum. Aside from being the National mosque of Uganda, the old Kampala mosque is also the headquarters of the Muslim faith with the offices of the Uganda Muslim supreme council. Other amenities on ground include a conference hall, a radio station and offices. Perhaps one of the greatest religious architectural pieces you will find in Uganda earning itself a must visit status.