Fort Santiago, Manila

The last time I was in Intramuros (the old walled city of Manila) was five years ago, with Kuya Nik and during my high school days. Now I have the chance to visit my favorite place on earth. So with Reina and Claudine, we visited Fort Santiago while waiting for Pabz. We took a cab to the fort and as we traveled to the walled city here is the beginning of the history.

Turn of the century Fort Santiago

“The fort was named after Saint James (Santiago in Spanish), the patron saint of Spain, who is also known as Saint James the Muslim-slayer because of the legend that he miraculously appeared hundreds of years after his death to fight in the battle of Clavijo, whose relief adorns the façade of the front gate. It is located at the mouth of the Pasig River and served as the premier defense fortress of the Spanish Government during their rule of the country. It became a main fort for the spice trade to the Americas and Europe for 333 years. The Manila Galleon trade to AcapulcoMexico began from the Fuerte de Santiago.”

We paid the entrance 75 pesos per person and entered the metal gate to Plaza Moriones, and on both of its sides were abandoned decaying buildings.

In the middle was a giant fountain and as we walked and read the descriptions on the buildings. On the left side was an old barracks where was now a dedication to the victims of WWII. On the right were the ruins of the warehouse of the Almacenes Reales.

Wall of Martyrs

Old Barracks

This marker is erected in memory of the hundreds of guerillas and civilians arrested, imprisoned, and killed here in Fort Santiago by the Japanese Imperial Forces during the Secon World War. These men and women died in defense of the freedom of the Philippines during the dark days of the Japanese occupation (1941-1945).

Almacenes Reales

Almacenes Reales

“The Almacenes Reales or Royal Warehouses were built in 1591 and used as storehouses for goods unloaded along the Pasig River. In 1690, new warehouses were built closer to the riverbank and continually renovated until its completion in 1739. The former almacenes remained in use until the building was renovated as soldiers’ quarters after the 1863 earthquake. The riverside section of the walls lasted until 1903 when American military engineers demolished the walls for river wharves.”

There were also souvenir shops with paintings and Philippine handicrafts on the first story of one of the ruins. It was sad to see that these buildings were not restored but I do not know if they kept it like that as a reminder of the war or they don’t have any budget. We took more photos especially the two girls. As they did some photoshoot here is more of the history of the fort.

Pre-Hispanic Times

Rajah Matanda

“The location of Fort Santiago was once the site of a palisaded fort, armed with bronze guns, of Rajah Matanda, a Muslim rajah of pre-Hispanic Manila who himself was a vassal to the Sultan of Brunei. The fort was destroyed by maestre de campo (master-of-camp) Martin de Goiti. The Spaniards started building Fort Santiago (Fuerte de Santiago) after the establishment of the city of Manila under Spanish rule on June 24, 1571 and made Manila the capital of the newly colonized islands.

The first fort was a structure of palm logs and earth. Most of it was destroyed when the city was invaded by Chinese pirates led by Limahong. Martin de Goiti was killed during the siege. After a fierce conflict, the Spaniards under the leadership of Juan de Salcedo, eventually drove the pirates out to Pangasinan province to the north, and eventually out of the country.

Martin de Goiti

The construction of Fort Santiago with hard stone, together with the original fortified walls of Intramuros, commenced in 1590 and finished in 1593 during the reign of Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas. The stones used were volcanic tuff quarried from Guadalupe (now Guadalupe Viejo in Makati). The fort as Dasmariñas left it consisted of a castellated structure without towers, trapezoidal in trace, its straight gray front projecting into the river mouth.

Arches supported an open gun platform above, named the battery of Santa Barbara, the patron saint of all good artillerymen. These arches formed casemates which afforded a lower tier of fire through embrasuresCurtain walls of the simplest character, without counter forts or interior buttresses, extended the flanks to a fourth front facing the city.”

We walked around the plaza and finally reached the drawbridge and facing us the symbol of Manila and the fort. The Gate of St. James with its intricate carvings of the St. James in a horse and soldiers on the sides with the coat of arms in the middle of the gate. This was a beautiful recreation after the original’s destruction during World War II. On it, each side was the Bastions of San Miguel and San Francisco. We took some photos and crossed its bride and entered its massive gate.

Spanish Period

“In 1714, the ornate gate of Fort Santiago was erected together with some military barracks. The Luzon earthquakes of 1880, which destroyed much of the city of Manila, destroyed the front edifice of the fort changing its character.

During the leadership of Fernándo Valdés y Tamon in the 1730s, a large semicircular gun platform to the front called media naranja (half orange) and another of lesser dimensions to the river flank were added to the Bastion of Santa Barbara. The casemates were then filled in and embrasures closed. He also changed the curtain wall facing cityward to a bastioned front. A lower parapet, bordering the interior moat, connects the two bastions.

British Occupation

Statue of Jose Rizal

On September 24, 1762, British forces led by Brigadier-General William Draper and Rear-Admiral Samuel Cornish invaded and captured Manila, and along with it Fort Santiago. It was during this time that the fort served as a base of operations for the Royal Navy until April 1764 when they agreed to a ceasefire with the Spanish.”

We entered and what greeted us was the skeleton of the buildings. It was from the main building and to the Plaza de Armas where the statue of the nation’s National Hero Jose Rizal. It continues to the ruins of Rajah Sulayman Theater. There we saw another statue of him inside the cell and that was where the golden footprints of Rizal start.

Adobe Building

“This 18th-century adobe building was used as soldiers’ barracks and had a petty officers’ school (Cuarto Escuela) at one end. In 1896, this room was converted into a chapel-cell where national hero Jose Rizal spent his last night on earth.

Destroyed during World War II, the ruins were used as a storage area for war materials before it was abandoned in 1950. It was converted into an outdoor theater called Dulaang Raha Sulayman in 1967. This venue became the home of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) where seasonal performances are staged.”

Jose Rizal’s statue with his footsteps

We looked at his footprints which run around the whole fort. Before following him we looked at a small opening on the wall beside the theater which was historically significant.

Postigo de la Nuestra Senora del Soledad (Postern of our Lady of Solitude)

“The fort occupants used this gate as a passage to the Pasig River. In 1762, Lieutenant Governor-General Simon de Anda escaped here with part of the city’s treasury and official documents as British soldiers captured the city. He fled to Pampanga where he established himself as Governor-General of the Philippines while leading a resistance movement until the end of the British occupation in 1764.”

We went through the hole and we only found a jungle side of the walls, with vegetation covering the small sidewalks along with the fortress’ walls with the Pasig River not far behind. Thinking it’s not safe to wander around we went back and looked for the footprints to follow. Here is a continuity of history.

American Period

Stairs inside beyond the main gate

On August 13, 1898, the American flag was raised in Fort Santiago signifying the start of the American rule in the Philippines. The fort served as the headquarters for the U.S. Army and several changes were made to the fort by the Americans. One of these changes included the draining of the moats surrounding the fort. The grounds were then transformed into a golf course.

World War II

For the Japanese Invasion of the Philippines, see the Philippines Campaign (1941–42).

American tank through the gate

During World War II, Fort Santiago was captured by the Japanese Imperial Army, and used its prisons and dungeons including the storage cells and gunpowder magazines for hundreds of prisoners who were killed near the end of the war (see Manila massacre). The fort sustained heavy damage from American and Filipino military mortar shells during the Battle of Manila in February 1945. Also, approximately 600 American prisoners of war died of suffocation or hunger after being held in extremely tight quarters in the dungeons at Fort Santiago.”

We followed Rizal’s footsteps and passed by the underground dungeon. I wanted to go down and see for myself the place. According to some of my research when the flood comes in people actually drown within those cells. Unfortunately, the gates leading down were lock due to safety reasons.

The Dungeons

“The dungeons used to be the storage vaults and powder magazine of the Baluarte de Santa Barbara. Because of dampness caused by the humid weather and the nearness of the vaults to the Pasig River, the Spaniards decided to build a new powder magazine on top of the baluarte in 1715. The vaults were converted into prison cells and storerooms when the Casa del Castellano (Fort Commander’s residence) was built in 1718.”

So we moved on climbing up the bastion to Baluarte de Sta. Barbara where we got a good view of the Pasig River and the district of Binondo on the other side. The wind was strong in these parts and like before we took some more photos. I can’t help feeling sad because in this area used to stand another building with a tower overlooking the entrance to the Pasig and the city itself.

Baluarte de Santa Barbara

Baluarte during peacetime

“Named after the patron saint of artillerymen. Built-in 1592 to protect the entrance to the Pasig River. Vaults and powder magazine commandant (Casa del Castellano) built-in 1609. Renovation and reconstruction from 1729 and 1745, including the building of the semicircular platform (media naranja).

The U.S. Army headquarters built-in 1904. Occupied by the Japanese army in 1942. Storage cells and powder magazines used as dungeons for hundreds of prisoners who were killed at the end of the war. Severely damaged during the Battle of Manila in 1945. Restored from 1951 to 1967, in 1991 and 1998.”

After walking around we used the soldiers’ trail along the walls overlooking the golf course. As we stopped by the shade the two girls retouched their powder and I waited and we walked around the museum.

Rizal Shrine

Rizal Shrine

“The brick ruins are part of the oldest building in Fort Santiago. Built-in 1593, the structure was a barracks building for Spanish soldiers. During the American period, army officers and their families lived here. The building was eventually destroyed during World War II.

The Rizal Shrine is a modern museum built in 1953 and houses the memorabilia of national hero Jose Rizal. The national hero’s cell was in the former Cuarto de Repuesto or storage area and pantry. A model of the cell during his imprisonment sone of the main attractions of the shrine. In 1996, the shrine was renovated as part of the centennial celebration of Rizal’s martyrdom and the Philippine Revolution.”

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Reapplying powder along the walls

After looking inside and seeing the memorabilia of Jose Rizal and some of the preserved-legacies from the Spanish Colonial Period.  There was also a small replica of Rizal writing his “Ultimo Adios” and it was a little bit dark on the exhibit room.

After taking some pictures we went along the walls with the golf course on the other side. We ended up parallel to the main gate of the fort and we cross and ended up back to Baluarte de San Miguel and San Francisco. We walked down the stairs and crossed to the other side and check out the Baluarte de San Francisco where Reina had her picture taken with a Spanish soldier.

We exit the main fort and back to the Plaza Moriones, where we explored some of the other bastions and visited one of the redoubts behind the barrack ruins where we were surprised to see a hidden chapel.

Baluartillo and Reducto de San Francisco Javier

“Built-in 1662 as part of the seafront defense line of Intramuros. Original rampart extended as a curtain wall after a section was destroyed in the 1645 earthquake. Reducto built-in 1773 by military engineer Dionisio O’Kelly. Also called Reducto de Santiago. It finished in 1775. Used as storage chambers. Became part of the Manila Arsenal of the U.S. Army. Severely damaged in the Battle of Manila in 1945. Baluartillo restored in the 1950s and reducto in 1983 and has been converted into a shrine for the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

The Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe

We exit the main park and to the plaza where we found a playground and like little children we took our time playing in the swings, climbing bars and taking several pictures. 


After its destruction during WWII, Fort Santiago was declared as a Shrine of Freedom in 1950. Its restoration by the Philippine government did not begin till 1953 under the hands of the National Parks Development Committee. The Intramuros Administration now manages the reconstruction, maintenance, and management of the fort since 1992.”

That concludes our walking tour around Fort Santiago as Pabz texted us and we meet up with him around Intramuros. To end this historical tour here was the current status of Fort Santiago and still its saddening that this fort cannot be restored to its former glory because of lack of interest amongst the Filipinos.

Here is the link for more information:

PanlkanPt3 08 (Fans yun asa bkgrnd)
Say Cheez!

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