I am one of those who had their first visit to Fort Santiago as part of an educational trip and revisited after being based in a foreign country. While our visit last July was in a more relaxed manner that made it more meaningful, I fondly remember how in my sophomore year in high school we hurriedly consumed our packed lunch and explored the Rizal Shrine the most under the impression that we will be quizzed the following week by our Social Studies teacher. Years later, I glanced at the fort’s gate with better appreciation of the Philippine culture and history.
One of the several changes is the presence of guards in a polished guardia sibil uniforms. In fact, they are present in the entire Walled City (Intramuros). They are probably one of the most photographed people in Manila.
As you approach Plaza Moriones (in Fort Santiago itself, not the plaza in Tondo, Manila), there is a structure to the left that may be imagined as haunted depending on one’s imagination. Entry is currently not permitted, I regret not asking at least two employees from the admin how it is envisioned to be introduced to the public/visitors.
The presence/image of these weapons is an added attraction at this point. However, the grueling past which includes the Spanish (including their struggle with Chinese pirates), British, American and Japanese occupations of Manila and other parts of the Philippines is not exactly a fun episode.
There are statues and standees that will accompany you as you enjoy the plaza.
A sort of tunnel in Reducto de San Francisco Javier.
I presume that in the coming years the Intramuros Administration may consider adding sound effects and/or narrative voice over, particularly for this tunnel, to enhance the visitors experience. Anyway, it is still a pleasant ‘journey’ as it is. As you exit, you will see a chapel.
This is Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. It is small which is indeed votive in nature. I can only imagine how many people frequented this and/or how it was actually utilized during the different foreign occupations of the fort.
This is Rizal Shrine which houses the books, manuscripts, the farewell poem (Mi ultimo adios) and other memorabilia of Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines (otherwise referred as the George Washington of the Philippines). He spent his last night here before he was executed in Bagumbayan (Luneta) due to charges/accusation of sedition, rebellion and conspiracy. (Note: In 2013, there was a house bill which seeked to declare Andres Bonifacio as national hero.)
Infront the Rizal Shrine is Plaza Armas which has a statue of Jose Rizal and has bronze steps (quite an attraction) which represent his last steps from his cell to the location of his execution.
If you long for more Rizal-related memorabilia, there is a Rizaliana furniture exhibit at Baluarte de Santa Barbara at an extra fee of P10 per person.
Noli Me Tangere (Latin for Touch Me Not) was penned by Jose Rizal. It is approached as an expose of wrongdoings of the rulers of the Philippines (during Spanish colonization) and Spanish catholic priests. In simple terms, we may figuratively view the novel as tackling ‘hidden cancer’.
The moat served as preliminary line of defense. As you passed through it, you will finally reach (technically) the gate of Fort Santiago; currently, the gate being referred to sometimes is the one where the visitors pay the entrance fees. It is interesting how the occupants (e.g. during the American occupation, they opted to drained the moats surrounding the fort to pave way for golf courses) and natural events (like the 1880 Luzon earthquakes) changed the designed of Fort Santiago.
Modern structures snapped with the Fort Santiago gate.
There is a small resemblance in how Edinburgh Castle and Fort Santiago were built, i.e. in terms of usage of volcanic-related materials.
In awe of Rajah Sulayman Theater
Before Fort Santiago had a proper name (that was after the patron saint of Spain, Santiago or Saint James the Great in English) and became stone-built, it is said to be a fort (or kuta in Filipino) of Rajah Matanda (otherwise known as Rajah Ache) who is one of the three (3) rajahs, along with Rajah Sulayman and Lakan Dula who ruled parts of Manila, then known as the Kingdom of Maynila.
This area towards the mouth of Pasig River should not be missed.
The story and sight of dungeons may be fun to watch. However, we probably can only imagine how unthinkable the situation was when this served as prison dungeons since the Spanish occupation and notably the prisoners of war , i.e. (unaccounted) number of Filipinos and approximately 600 Americans, who died of food deprivation and/or asphyxiation.
This brings me memories of discussion of Manila-Acapulco Trade in high school. In 2015, the Philippines and Mexico are pushing this trade route to be included in the World Heritage List.
As you exit the dungeon and walk towards the mouth of Pasig River, you will be welcomed by the view of Binondo. It heavily rained the day prior to our visit which was morning time. I wonder how the sunset is in this side of the fort.
Fort Santiago is near Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila. It is open from 8am – 6pm everyday. Entrance fee is P75 for adults and P50 for students. Kids (of very young age) may enter for free. There is an extra fee of P10 per person to access the Rizaliana furniture exhibit. My suggested duration of visit is at least 2 hours.