Sunday, February 1, 2015

Fort Santiago - Manila's Principal Tourist Destination (Manila, Philippines)

Fort Santiago was a formidable fortress standing on a portion of the 64-hectare walled city of Intamuros, guarding the entrance of the Pasig River. When Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the first governor-general of the Philippines under the Spanish rule, envisioned and founded Intramuros in 1571, this arose from what was once the Muslim settlement of Raja Sulayman. The original fortification was a palisaded structure of logs and earth.

Notorious Chinese pirate Limahong (Lin Feng) invaded and succeeded to destroy the wooden fortress in 1574 but wasn't able to drive away the Spanish forces. Limahong was driven away from China by Emperor Ming so his forces sought refuge in Ilocos Sur where plans of attacking Spanish-held Manila came to a fruition. That time, China had a "no-war" policy with its neighbors, a far-cry from the very arrogant and disruptive stance of the present mainland Chinese leaders who, though they haven't wage physical war, have began claiming lands and shores that are not theirs, bullying the territory's sovereign owners.

Fort Santiago was eventually rebuilt between 1589 and 1592, this time made of stone. Earthquake tore down the fortress. For 2 years, between 1762 and 1764, British occupation army took residence here. But what isn't clear to me was where the whereabouts of the Spaniards at that time. Fort Santiago was occupied by the Japanese military in 1942 where hundreds of civilians and guerrillas were imprisoned, tortured and executed. Thousands of women were made into "comfort women", sex slaves and/or killed. The fort was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945.

It was declared a shrine of freedom in 1950. Restoration work started in 1951.

Its most famous habitue was the Philippines' National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal (left), who was imprisoned here on the days before his execution in Luneta in 1896. Here, he wrote his poem, "Mi Ultimo Adios" (The Last Farewell) which was smuggled out of the fortress inside a lamp. These days, the original copy is "entombed" in a small corner that has become a Rizal Shrine which houses other memorabilia.

Fort Santiago, aside from its historical significance, provides scenic views of Manila's riverside promenade and the Pasig River. It is also Manila's number one tourist attraction. If there's only one place to visit in this mostly-transit city (for most foreign visitors at least), this would be it.

Entrance is PhP65 ($1.50). The fortress is open between 8AM and 6 PM, but the Rizal Shrine inside closes at 5PM. I would advise against getting one of those horse-drawn carriages. They charge PhP300 to PhP350 ($6.80-$8) by the hour and some even up the ante at PhP500 ($11.50) even if you've pretty much shook hands on a much lower price. Intramuros is safe; has guards dressed in Katipunero garbs; and there are particular places to check out other than Fort Santiago which is just a corner of the walled city of Intramuros.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Plaza Armas

Above the ramparts

Wouldn't you want a spot here to bask in the sun and watch boats pass by?

Pasig River

Those holes-on-the-floor on the ramparts lead down to prison cells.

Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal is a physician specializing in ophthalmology, not an optometrist. He operated on his mother's cataract.

This leads to the prison cells.

Manuel L. Quezon was the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines serving between 1935 and 1944.


Ramakrishnan said...

Interesting piece of history. Lush greenery in the fortress campus. Loved the Victorias - are they used by the tourists ? Couldn't spot the horses though :)

eye in the sky said...

Hi Ram,

I don't think they're for tourist consumption, though I could be wrong, but no one was there waiting for willing tourists. Yeah, I should have taken photos of the horses. :)