Nyeri County

Attractions in Nyeri County

40. Italian Memorial Church

This is located over the ridge from Kinunga at the settlement of Ihururu, and is easier reached via the Nyeri-Mweiga-Nyahururu Road turning left shortly after the junction at Kingongo. The keen driver will find a thrilling experience in just driving through the 7 kms jaunt from Nyeri to Italian Memorial Church. Along the way, farms and back-road horizons of ridges interconnected by forests and natural vegetation corridors should please even the hardest of skeptics. It offers a glimpse of the Laikipia Plains too. This site contains two contiguous National Monuments – Italian Memorial Church and Italian’s Servants Wall – in honour of 676 soldiers, mostly Italian, captured by British forces during World War II. While the former can be carried through as one of the loveliest Church edifices in Nyeri County, it is, as a matter of fact, not a Church, rather, an ingenious way to maintain a “low-profile”. Italy’s and Kenya’s flags are hoisted at the entrance.

Constructed in 1952, this contains, along its wall, ceremonial plaque identifying each soldier, battalion served and place of death. The Italian’s Servants Wall, located outside the Italian Memorial Church, memorializes the Somali fighters who fought alongside the Italians. Respecting their faith, their remains were in-earthed in a vault near the Church. Also of interest within the Italian Memorial Church is a marble-lined tomb memorializing Sacrario Puca D’costa, the leader of Italian force in East Africa, who also commanded 7,000 Italians at mountain fortress of Amba Alagi, in Northern Ethiopia. He was next in line to the Italian throne before his death in 1942, in WWII. Both these National Monuments are within the precinct of Nyeri Farm which also encompasses Consolata Mathari Hospital, gazetted as a National Monument. Mass at the Italian War Memorial is held once a year. After its construction, all known remains of Italian soldiers from several sites around East Africa were gathered and transported to this site.

Italian War Memorial Church, Nyeri. Image Courtesy of Kenyan Backpacker
Italian War Memorial Church, Nyeri. Image Courtesy of Kenyan Backpacker

41. Nyeri Hill Farm

If the aim of your journey was to tour the Italian Memorial Church and you get to Consolata Mathari Hospital, you’ve gone far and need to redouble to the top of the hill to the entrance of the Church Mission Society and Nyeri Farm. All the same, a visit to one should not omit of the other. The vast 3,500-acre Nyeri Hill Farm was among the first coffee plantations to be established in Eastern Africa, with its first planting in 1914. It attained the coveted international recognition of UTZ ‘good inside’ Certification in 2010 – for the superior quality of its coffee and for its principles of fairness and transparency. UTZ Certified is the world’s largest coffee certification programs recognizing good farming practices leading to better business and sustainably grown products. Of the farms’s 3,500-acres, 850-acres are under coffee plantation. And it is through the coffee income that Consolata Nyeri Cathedral, Consolata Mathari Hospital, Nyeri High School and Kamwenja Teachers College were developed. A visit here offers fine insights to the art of producing premium world-class coffee. It also has noteworthy historic relics that include plaques marking the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and the World War Two Italian Prisoners of War. The landscape is also wildly-beautiful.

42. Nyeri Hill

Designated as the Nyeri Hill Forest Reserve in 1944, the verudous woody of the isolated and strategic Nyeri Hill (which is located between Aberdare Range and Mount Kenya) offers a stimulating challenge for the motorist, and rewards the adventurous hiker with some of the most striking scenery to found in Nyeri. Its jungle-like dome, easily recognized by a radio transmitting station at the top, is the most prominent feature around Nyeri Town. On the ascend from Consolata Mathari Hospital in the east sits the the spectacular snow capped Mount Kenya, in the west is Aberdare Range and in the north lies the flat wildlife rich plains of Laikipia. There is a motorable road up the side of Nyeri Hill which takes to its summit. For many years, it has been possible to walk up the hill through well-developed paths, yet, it remains one of the hiking destinations often-sold-short.

Atop Nyeri Hill Overlooking Nyeri Hill Farm. Image Courtesy of Nyeri Farm
Atop Nyeri Hill Overlooking Nyeri Hill Farm. Image Courtesy of Nyeri Farm

43. Dedan Kimathi Trench

On the furthest end of Nyeri Hill, around the bend, the road terminates at the small centre of Ihururu. About 4 kms from here going through Ihururu Town to Karuna-ini is the reputable but seldom travelled Dedan Kimathi Trench. At the instance of his much-publicised capture, the puffery of the “Mau Mau Uprising” had reached breakneck urgency. Given its recurrent headlining in international news, decisive action was assured, that would have far-reaching punitive effects in many parts of Kenya, especially around Kikuyuland. One useful tactic on the part of the British was to set up detention and rehabilitation centres, famously christened colonial villages, largely to isolate the non-sympathizers and reduce casualties. This contrived the Mau Mau fighters and their sympathizers into the forest, to a wild terrain that favoured both parties. It is salutory to mention that while there were casualties on both sides, disproportionately on the side of the Mau Mau, the colonial forces’ always had the upper hand of might and logistics.

It was indispensable they capture the leaders of Mau Mau to thwart any further lawlessness. The self-proclaimed leader of the Mau Mau, Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, was openly declared as the most wanted villain and prime target. No expense was spared for his capture. On the evening of October 20th, 1956, a party of about 24 Tribal Police and Tribal Police Reserves under a Tribal Police Corporal Wanjohi went out from Kahigaini Home Guard Post to line part of the continuous trench (a flat-bottomed pit 12 feet wide with thick forest cover to the edge of the ditch in most places) that separated the Kikuyu Native Reserve from the thick forest in South Tetu Location. In the early morning hours of Sunday 21st, 1956, two guards – Ndirangu and Njogu – positioned on the Reserve side of the trench spotted a lone man crossing the trench, making his way into the forest. On a verbal order to stop, the man dropped what he was carrying and started back on the trench, aiming for the Reserve. A fleeting foot chase ensued.

Ndirangu then fired two separate shots. The suspected had escaped. After an hour and twenty minutes of searching, Ndirangu and Njogu in their statement recount, they saw a thing like a leopard lying in an undergrowth under a small castor oil tree. On approach they saw it was a man wearing a leopard skin coat and cap. On inquiring his name, the man simply replied “it is I Kimathi s/o Wachiuri”. He was wounded in the front of the right thigh. Under his leopard skin coat they discovered a holster containing a pistol and a simi (native sword) in a sheath. He was taken to the Ihururu Police Station for first aid before being rushed to the Provincial Hospital. The recognizable portrait of a handcuffed and bare chested Kimathi lying on a stretcher was taken at the P.G.H Hospital hours after he was arrested. On October 22nd, 1956, he was questioned by the police.

On November 27th, 1956, at the Majesty’s Supreme Court of Kenya in Nyeri, in Emergency Assize Criminal Case No. 46 of 1956, the accused, Dedan Kimathi s/o Wachiuri, was charged with two offences against the Emergency Regulation of 1952: For unlawful possession of firearms (a 38 Webley Scott revolver, with 6 rounds of ammunition) contrary to Regulation 8A(1) Regulation 8A (1A). While serving remand at the Kamiti Maximum Prison he was sentenced on the second account to seven years hard labour. On the first account, he was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he is dead. In the early morning of February 18, 1957, Kimathi was executed by hanging at the Kamiti Maximum Prison, and buried in an unmarked grave unknown to date. Like clockwork his capture and execution led to the winding-up of the unrest, and was a step-forward to thwart Mau Mau.

Mau Mau Chief Captured (1956). Published by British Pathé