A visit to Fort Santiago would enable you to reimagine the history behind the ruins and its significance. Each structure guides you to retrace its function on the entire operation of the fort and its different occupants throughout the years.
Fort Santiago was built in 1571 and is one of the oldest fortifications in Manila. Different occupations and governments have used the site from pre-colonial times up to the modern era. Its long-standing history has also recorded hundreds of civilians and guerillas that were imprisoned, tortured and executed. Through the passing of time it has gone several damages, repair and renovation yet it has still remained to be a place visited by the public. Now it has become one of the significant tourist attractions in Manila.
1. Plaza Moriones
To enter the fort, one would have to go to the ticket counter. It is set at the gate of a large garden square called Plaza Moriones. During the colonial times, this ground used to be a public square for military drill and parades. It also has served as an important clearing for the fort in an event of siege or foreign attack. Eventually, it was fenced off in 1864 after an earthquake. Originally called Plaza de la Fuerza, or Plaza of the Fort, it was renamed to Plaza Moriones after Domingo Moriones, the 87th Spanish governor-general who ruled from 1877 to 1880.
2. Reducto De San Francisco Javier and Guadalupe Chapel
Reducto De San Francisco Javier is a crescent-shaped high wall built in 1773. It was constructed to reinforce the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier. In 1981 Guadalupe Chapel was built using traditional building methods within the high walls.
3. Baluartillo De San Francisco Javier
This was built in 1663 as part of the seaside defense of Manila. As of writing, the chambers here are used for different purposes. One chamber houses the Intramuros Visitor’s Center while the other chambers are being rented by different merchants. One is occupied by a souvenir shop and the other is an arts and crafts shop, both of which maintained the original structure to stay in harmony with the heritage vibe of the place. Another chamber is being rented by an eatery who whitewashed the old walls giving it a more contemporary look.
4. Alamacenes Reales
Built in 1591, Almacenes Reales or Royal Warehouse was used as a storehouse for goods unloaded along the Pasig River. Eventually, it was renovated to become a soldiers’ quarters. Soon after, the riverside section of the walls was demolished for river wharves. Nowadays the surviving freestanding stone arches serve as a reminder of its traditional architecture.
5. Martyr’s Wall
The damaged and aged walls of this area have now plaques dedicated to all who were tortured and incarcerated by the Japanese Military during World War II in this fort. At present, it is carpeted with bermudagrass, and shaded by trees and plants surrounding it.
6. Moat and Bridge
Aside from the ornate gate, the moat and bridge are the striking features of Fort Santiago. It has a resemblance to Medieval castles. This man-made canal has made Fort Santiago a fortress Island and has joined the Pasig River and Manila Bay. Eventually, the moat was filled with soil but was re-dug again and restored by the Intramuros Administration in the 1980s. At present, crossing this bridge allows you to reimagine the fort during its heyday without the chaos. Meanwhile, the floating water lilies balance the view as it gives the sturdy and aged structures a softer look.
7. Fort Santiago Gate
This elaborately designed iconic gate serves as the main entrance to the fort. Originally the fort was a structure of palm logs and earth. In 1714, this gate was built together with the military barracks. It was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945 when the M4 Sherman tank breached the defenses of the fort. The gate was restored in 1982 by The Intramuros Administration and has maintained its beauty since then.
8. Baluarte De San Miguel
This rampart was built to fortify the defenses of the fort from the attack from the land. Originally, there were cannons facing all outward directions installed on its top. You can walk on this rampart’s narrow walkway to Baluarte De Santa Barbara if you want to see the top view of the fort’s complex and neighboring spots.
9. Medio Baluarte De San Francisco
This rampart was built to fortify the defenses of the fort from the attack from the river. Just like in Baluarte De San Miguel, there were cannons that were installed on its top. At present, there are benches that spread out where you can sit. From here, you could have a good view of the bridge, moat, and the gate below. You can also walk on its narrow walkway towards Falsabraga Media Naranja while looking at the view of Pasig River.
10. Plaza Armas
This used to be the open grounds for military drills and parades within the fort. At present, it is carpeted with bermudagrass with classic lamp posts on its sides. Along its paved pathways are the bronze shaped footsteps that depict the last steps of the national hero towards Rizal Park where he would be executed by a firing squad.
11. Rajah Sulayman Theatre
This has served as one of the fort’s old military barracks. It was converted to be an open-air theater after World War II. It was named after Rajah Sulayman who used to rule in the area. The site was his citadel and residence before the Spanish troops invaded it. At present, the structure is roofless and surrounded by walls with open windows and doors. Also, the red bricks and other stones that were used to build it are still visible. Inside, you can see elevated platforms and a statue of the national hero depicting his image when he was imprisoned in this fort.
12. Postigo De la Nuestra Señora Del Soledad
This postern is situated in a concealed location on the fort’s wall. It was used as an escape route to allow the soldiers to leave inconspicuously during instances of siege or emergency. At present, you can access the promenade through it. The promenade has been open to the public since 2017. Historically, the promenade has served as a wharf of the army.
13. Rizal Shrine
This section was formerly a military barracks. Nowadays, you’re going to see the ruins of the barracks with its terracotta brick remnants. Some trusses are still installed although it has remained roofless. This site was partially constructed and currently houses a museum for the national hero.
The dungeons were originally the storage facility for gunpowder and arms of Baluarte de Santa Barbara. They were eventually converted into prison cells and storerooms. This can fold about a hundred persons at most, however, after World War II, there are as many as 600 decomposing and unrecognized bodies that were found forcibly cramped inside it.
15. White cross
The mortal remains of approximately 600 Filipinos who died inside the nearby dungeon were put in a mass grave. It was marked with a white marble cross in memory of all the unknown victims of Japanese Imperial Forces atrocities.
16. Falsabraga Media Naranja
Falsabraga means a false wall, while Media Naranja refers to its half-orange shape. This rampart served as an additional layer of the wall protecting the riverside of the Baluarte de Santa Barbara. At present, the semi-circular paved platform has benches, guard stations, and grilled dungeons on it.
17. Baluarte De Santa Barbara
This structure was built in 1592 to protect the entrance to the Pasig River. It served as the most strategic rampart of the fort. Canons originally flanked the top, while its chambers served as storage for arms and gunpowder. Quarters of the artillerymen and Casa Del Castellano which was the house of the commandant was also built here. The chambers have been recently converted as the i-make History Fortress Learning Center which is a LEGO Education Center that aims to promote innovation, creativity, and love for Philippine Heritage.
18. Falsabraga Santa Barbara
This rampart faces both the river and the Manila Bay. It served as an additional layer of the wall to protect the strategic tip of Baluarte de Santa Barbara.
If you want to see the quiet side of Manila while tracing its past and present, this site is the place to be. It is surrounded by a bustling city but filled with mystery and quietness inside.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. All expenses are paid by the author.
Happy Travels! 💛
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