Fort Santiago: A tour on History Lane
Fort Santiago is best known as the site where Philippines national hero Gat Jose Rizal spent the last days of his life. He was imprisoned in a cell by the Spaniards and later on executed him being a country patriot. Footsteps of his last walk from his cell to Bagong Bayan have been embedded in bronze. He was 35 years old when he was executed. What made Jose Rizal more famous is that he can converse in 22 languages, an artist, academic, surgeon and a scientist. He wrote many books and novels that described the cruelty of the Spaniards. The Fort Santiago has a Rizal shrine where Filipinos and foreign visitors pay their respects to this great man. Fort Santiago is dubbed as the “walled city”. It is a fortress at the mouth of Pasig River that served as the Spanish military headquarters during the country’s Colonial era. It also served as the memorial for soldiers who lost their lives defending the country during the Japanese occupation of World War II.
Fort Santiago was built by Spanish conquistadores in 1571 that replaced the fortress of the last Datu of the Philippines. It served as a fortress against Chinese pirates, a prison for Spanish era political prisoners and a Japanese torture chamber during the World War II. The fort was almost destroyed when American deployed bombs in one of the battle at Manila. This fort is protected by walls that is 22 feet high and 8 feet thick with an archway entrance of 40 feet tall. The fort was restored during the 1980’s. Today, it is a museum to preserve the memory of the Spanish era.
Visiting Fort Santiago is very simple. Just take the LRT and get off at UN station. From there, take a 20 to 25 minutes walk. By jeepneys, ride the route going to Pier and get off at Bonifacio drive intersection where the fort is a 5 minute walk to Aduana street. Walking through the gates, you will be welcome by a staff in Guardia Civil uniforms. Pay the required entrance fee. Upon entering the fort, visitors will pass by the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier where military supplies were stored after the fort was built. Pass by the bridge leading to the archway and proceed to Plaza de Armas where the Fort’s main building, the Rizal Shrine, military barracks houses samples of Jose Rizal’s works. One can find here the original copy of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios”, his other collections including species he discovered during his exile and the preserved clothes he wore.
Inside the Fort, one can find the Silid ng Pagninilay or the Contemplation room with written phrases that capture the national hero’s patriotism and his fight for the liberty of his country. The right wall of contemplation room is the entrance to a model of Rizal’s cell with a statue of Rizal sitting.
At the end of the Fort, there are dungeon like prison cells where prisoners were said to have drowned by the rising tide of the Pasig River. Outside the cellblock where Rizal spent his last night, one will find an open air theater. It is interesting to see the footprints in the pavement marking Jose Rizal’s steps to the exact location where he was executed. If you are tired of walking, you can take a kalesa (carriage) ride to tour Intramuros for a fee.
A visit to the Fort Santiago will awaken Filipinos sense of nationalism and will educate tourists on the sacrifices Jose Rizal had to endure just to see his country be free from foreign oppressors. Seeing the ruins and remnants of what was left of this important part of Philippine history is a different experience than by merely hearing and reading what was written on the book.