When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi reestablished Rajah Solaiman’s Manila as the new capital of the growing Spanish empire in the Far East in 1571, he also directed the rebuilding of the fallen chieftain’s wooden citadel as the headquarters for Spain’s military.
It was named Fort Santiago after the legendary Saint James the Moor-slayer (Santiago Matamoros in Hispanic).
As the city grew in wealth and prominence in its new place in the world stage, Fort Santiago also became a formidable symbol of Spanish power in the orient.
Foreign power headquarters
The first Spanish fort, a palisaded structure of logs and earth, was destroyed soon after it was established when the Chinese pirate Lin Feng (Limahong) launched an almost successful siege of Manila in 1574.
Spanish soldiers successfully repelled the attack, but the fortification was destroyed. The present structure was built using volcanic tuff (locally known as adobe) between 1589 and 1592. The fort had served as headquarters of several foreign powers in Philippines, including Spain (1571 to 1898), Britain (1762 through 1764 during the Seven Years War), America (1898 to 1945), and Japan (1942 through 1945). Fort Santiago was declared a National Shrine and National Monument in 1951, and has been a National Cultural Treasure since 2014.
What to check out within the fort:
The traditional open grounds for military drill and parades. Served as an important clearing during a siege or foreign attack.
Baluarte de San Francisco Javier
Built in 1663 as part of the seaside defense of Manila. Chambers now house the Intramuros Visitors’ Center.
Reducto de San Francisco Javier
Crescent-shaped high wall built in 1773 to reinforce the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier. Construction was part of overall reinforcement of Manila’s fortification after the successful British siege during the Seven Years War.
Built in 1981 by the Intramuros Administration within the Reducto de San Francisco Javier using traditional building methods and dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Wall with plaque dedicated to all who were tortured and incarcerated in Fort Santiago by the Japanese military during World War II.
Moat and Bridge
This man-made canal joined the Pasig River and Manila Bay, making Fort Santiago a fortress island. The moat was filled in with earth by the early 20th century, and eventually re-dug and restored by the Intramuros Administration in the 1980s.
Fort Santiago Gate
Featured are the arms of Castille and Leon and a wooden relief of the Fort’s patron, Santiago Matamoros. It serves as the main iconic entrance to Fort Santiago.
Baluarte de San Miguel
This rampart was built to fortify the defenses of Fort Santiago from river and land attacks. Cannons facing all outward directions were originally installed on top.
The traditional open grounds for military drills and parades within Fort Santiago.
Formerly a military barracks, it was partially reconstructed and now houses a shrine to Jose Rizal.
Originally a storage facility for gunpowder and arms before it was converted into a prison cell during the 17th century. The cells can hold about a hundred persons at most but as many as 600 decomposing unknown prisoners were found inside after World War II.
The 600 who died in the dungeons were put in a mass grave now marked with a white marble cross.
Baluarte de Santa Barbara
Historically guarded the mouth of the Pasig River and served as the most strategic rampart of Fort Santiago. Cannons originally flanked the top, while its chambers served as storage for arms and gunpowder. The chambers have been recently converted as the iMaker History Fortress Learning Center.
iMake History Fortress Learning Center
The facility is a LEGO Education Center that aims to promote innovation, creativity, and love for Philippine heritage. The center was opened in 2018.
Falsabraga Media Naranja
Falsabraga means false wall while Media Naranja refers to its half-orange shape. This rampart served as an additional layer of wall protecting the riverside of the Baluarte de Santa Barbara.
Falsabraga Santa Barbara
Like the Media Naranja, this rampart served as an additional layer of wall protecting the strategic tip of the Baluarte de Santa Barbara.
Postigo de la Nuestra Señora de Soledad
A postern (small gate) used as an escape route during instances of siege or emergency, such as the Seven Years War, when Governor Simon de Anda escaped the British following this route. The public promenade, opened in 2017, historically served as a wharf for the army.
Rajah Sulayman Theatre
One of the Fort Santiago’s old military barracks converted to an open-air theater after World War II. It is the birthplace of what was then the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA).
Medio Baluarte de San Francisco
This rampart was built to fortify the defenses of Fort Santiago from river and land attacks. Cannons facing outward were originally placed atop the defense wall.
Royal storehouses in ruins since World War II. Prominent are the surviving freestanding stone arches, a legacy of traditional architecture.