A silent witness of Filipinos’ anguish and hope, Fort Santiago still stands strong as a faithful reminder to the Manileños of the dark past and a bright future. Being the 2nd most devastated city during World War 2, Manila only has a few structures left of its past, and Fort Santiago, which is inside the famous walled city of Intramuros is one of those. Let’s have a trip to Fort Santiago from past to future times.
“How was it possible to spread the gospel of peace with a sword?”
Fort Santiago was named after Saint James the Great (Santiago in Spanish), the patron saint of Spain. It was built on the same grounds were Datu Sulayman, a tribe chieftain defeated by the Spaniards ruled and trade flourished. After hearing from the locals about Manila as a rich trading point, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi sent out his 2 lieutenants to claim the area for Spain. Exceeding expectations, aside from being a trading point not only for Filipinos but foreigners as well, the area was also rich in other resources.
Built in 1571, it is one of the most important sites during the Spanish colonization. It served as a fortress, a place for incarcerations, torture, and death to Filipinos who dare to resist the Spaniards during their 333 years of rule in the country.
The country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rozal was imprisoned in the notorious Fort Santiago on charges of promulgating rebellion from November 3, 1896, up to his execution by firing squad on December 30, 1896. Currently, we can vividly trace the timeline of events on Rizal’s stay in Fort Santiago, as there is a dedicated section, from his actual cell room, the courtroom and retrace his last steps as he heads towards execution. The place is filled with actual mementos, personal belongings, and photographs of the national hero.
The horrors of Fort Santiago continues during the Japanese occupation during World War 2, thus giving birth to the legendary “hole of death” nickname. Taking advantage of the fort’s thick walls, cells, and dungeons, it served as storage, prison and torture grounds for Filipinos and Americans during the war. If this is not heart-breaking enough, Fort Santiago is a place where an estimated 3000 men, women, and children were lead to torture and gruesome death during the Manila Massacre. Below is an excerpt from El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas for an actual account:
“When the American forces surveyed Fort Santiago on February 23 and 24, 1945, they found four hundred corpses who appeared to have died through bayonet wounds, gunshots, and hunger. They also found a stack of fifty dead bodies, their hands tied to their backs. They further discovered more horrifying images in every cell. For instance, they saw three putrefied bodies. In another one, 58 tubercular patients’ cadavers were piled together. Survivor’s account narrated that these patients were fed with insects and human urine. Fort Santiago serves as a reminder of more than fifteen thousand heroes and civilians who were entrapped in the walled city as a result of Japanese ignominy.”
– Antonio Perez de Olaguer, El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas
After the wounds and trauma of war had been healed, the restoration of Fort Santiago was funded by the government with the help of different organizations for tourism and educational purposes. Fort Santiago is now a preferred venue for different arts and music festivals throughout the years.
Pioneered by a non-profit organization group called ILVSTRADOS (named after the educated Filipino middle-class during the 19th century), they strive to promote awareness, patriotism, and love for Intramuros, thus giving rise to the series of festivals called “Intramuros Rising”.
Fort Santiago these days now has a bright future! Scars of its harrowing past might still be present, but this does not mean that the stories connected to this place should always have a mournful ending. Interested to visit this place? Get in touch with us!
Fort Sanriago Marker
The Battle for Manila, by Connaughton
Manila, 21 December 1581, Colin Pastells
La fuerza de Santiago by lougopal
El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas by Antonio Perez de Olaguer
ILVSTRADOS Community page