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Fortress by the River: Fort Santiago of Manila

Fort Santiago Gate

After lunch, we head back to Intramuros and went to our ultimate destination: Fort Santiago. Why ultimate? Because it is where Jose Rizal was incarcerated for the last days of his life. Before he was shot in Luneta (err…Bagumbayan), he was imprisoned here by the Spanish authorities due to accusations of instigating mass revolts that are erupting all over Luzon and some parts of the country.

What is it about Fort Santiago? Except that it is popular as a fieldtrip destination of kids and tourists, it is one focal point of authority during the Spanish colonial era…a manifestation of foreign grip in the Philippines.  It is located at the northernmost part of the walled city, like a sentinel guarding the mouth of Pasig River and the walled city itself. Its location is as strategic as it is important to the Spanish crown colony, as most of the military power emanates from this fuerza real.

Santiago de Matamoros

The name of the fort though is somewhat appropriate to the conquering Spaniards at that time. Dedicated to Santiago de Matamoros or Saint James the Moor Slayer, it somehow depicts their religious zealotry and somehow their encounters with the Muslim Moros of Mindanao have reinforced its namesake.

Fort Santiago Panorama (Click here to view larger image)

According to the legend (umm…it’s a historical fact!), the site of the real fuerza was once the original site of the kingdom of Maynila of Rajah Suleiman.  In other words, Fuerza Santiago IS where Manila sprang into existence. Then the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi came in 1570. He invaded Maynila with his superior fire power and political will and toppled the wooden palisades of the Suleiman Manila and established a fortress in the site of the old Maynila once stood. However, because of outside attacks, especially pirates and the Chinese during the early days of colonization, the Spaniards replaced the old earth and log palisades into stone walls and was finished in 1592. For almost 333 years, the fort also became the hub of the walled city as galleons to Mexico and other ships trade either near the fort of its peripheries. Over the centuries, it has served as a military bastion from the Spanish all the way to the American colonial era.

Rizal, The Fort and The Cathedral

Yet like the rest of Intramuros during World War II, it was heavily damaged…and tales of horror and desperate atrocities hound the dark and damp dungeons. According to a plaque in the fort, there were at least 600 bodies found inside a dungeon as the Japanese imperial troops desperately executed their hostages during the so-called “Liberation” of Manila in 1945. A stone cross is erected for the unsung martyrs of WW2.

Inside Rizal Shrine

Left to decay after the war, it only got a facelift sometime during the Marcos era thru the establishment of Intramuros Administration. It was restored and now, a favorite attraction for school children and tourists alike.

In Memoriam of the Victims in Fort Santiago

Now, moving on to its present era, before you even enter the main fort itself, you’ll be strolling along at a park inside the old walls. I remember entering a tunnel which led us to the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the office of Intramuros Golf Club. Along the park, you’ll see remnants of the past. It is somehow a legacy or well…ghastly reminder of our past.

The Fort Santiago Park

Moving forward, it is still interesting to take note that there is still a moat in front of the fort’s main gate. Back then, Intramuros was surrounded by this moat…although the Yankee conquerors deemed it as a health hazard since most mosquitoes and disease-laden pests come from the stinking stagnant water of the moat. They have it replaced with a golf course!

The Old and the New Manila From Baluarte de Santa Barbara

As you entered the gate, a wooden relief of Santiago de Matamoros greets the visitors. Upon entering it, there’s another park and more walls to stroll at…on western side though are the ruins of the military offices…and just north of it is the Rizal Shrine in the fort.

Fort Santiago Rizal Shrine

The Rizal Shrine is a museum dedicated to the last days of Rizal…most especially his Mi Ultimo Adios before his execution in Bagumbayan on December 30, 1896.

And as we have our appreciation on Rizal’s last days on the museum-shrine, we went on to Baluarte de Santa Barbara where you could catch a glimpse of the northern banks of Manila…Binondo, Santa Cruz and the Del Pan ghetto. Just imagine what it was before during the Spanish and American colonial era!

Panoramic View of Manila from Baluarte de Santa Barbara | Click to view larger image

As the cool breeze refreshed us (by the way, Pasig River does not reek nowadays! It’s an improvement from its 1990s state!) and heritage unfolded us with the rich history that our people has, Fort Santiago is really the place for us to touch our own culture and history…not more than just kodakan, it’s like walking together with Rizal and our ancestors who left a legacy for us to remind them of their nobleness and sacrifices.

Inside Fort Santiago

For more photos, view here:

Map of Fort Santiago courtesy of Google Maps:

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Fortress by the River: Fort Santiago of Manila

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January 2010
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