Fort Santiago in Intramuros: Rediscovering Manila's Gem - The Filipino Rambler


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Saturday, October 21, 2023

Fort Santiago in Intramuros: Rediscovering Manila's Gem

A location that echoes with centuries of tales is hidden beneath the historic Intramuros walls in Manila. An important cultural relic, Fort Santiago is more than just a place to visit; it's a window into the past. Join me as I explore Fort Santiago's fascinating areas, rich history, and secret treasures.


History of Fort Santiago begins in the late 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors built a fortification in Manila to guard their newly discovered colony. It evolved over time, changed hands, and served a variety of purposes, from defense fortress to military prison. Fort Santiago functioned as the military command center for the Spanish, British (1762–1744), Americans (1898–1964), and Japanese (1942–1945) during their respective occupation periods. Even national hero Jose Rizal's last stand before being put to death in 1896 was observed there.


The Rizal Shrine. 
The Rizal Shrine is a museum honoring Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, and is a must-see location inside the fort. Through a variety of artifacts and exhibits, learn about his life, his contributions, and the events that led to his death.

Almacenes Reales. 
The remnants of the 16th-century Almacenes Reales, also known as Royal Warehouses, can be found across the square.  It served as a warehouse for supplies for the fort and other government buildings as well as a storage facility for items that were unloaded from ships at the river gate. American military engineers leveled the wall behind the structure in the 1900s to provide for simple access to the river wharves.

The Fort Santiago Gate.
The entrance to Fort Santiago's inner sanctuary is located here.  The Battle of Manila in 1945 resulted in the destruction of Fort Santiago's gate.  The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, as well as a wood relief carving of Santiago Matamoros (St. James, the "Moor-slayer"), the patron saint of Spain, are displayed on the main gate. 

The Dungeons. 
The somber echoes of the past are strong in these dimly lighted cells, where prisoners were held during World War II. Until the moisture made storing gunpowder unfeasible, the dungeons below served as powder magazines.  These were later transformed into jailhouses. Following recent rehabilitation, the dungeons are now accessible to the general public. 

During my first visit here, we've been told of stories of prisoners who drowned here during high tide. Now, I learned that archeological evidences proved that waters are impossible to enter chambers because they were built away above the river level.

The exit to the Dungeons will lead you to the Falsabraga Media Naranja. The Baluarte de Santa Barbara is strengthened by an additional protective layer of stone wall against intense assault. From here, one can have the view of the Pasig River.

The Plaza de Armas.
The vast Plaza de Armas is located in the middle of the fort. Picture ancient troops doing drills here. Today, it's a wonderful spot to relax, think, and take in the scenery.

The Baluarte de Sta. Barbara.
To safeguard the entry from the Pasig River, this was constructed in the 16th century. It is Fort Santiago's tallest defensive structure. Later additions included vaults, a powder magazine, and the soldiers' barracks above.  In the 18th century, it underwent renovation and reconstruction. The iMake History Fortress LEGO Education Center is currently located in the Baluarte de Santa Barbara's

Ruins of American Barracks.
There are the remains of a structure known as the American Barracks next to Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier's sturdy curtain wall. Elpidio Quirino, a former president of the Philippines, was detained here for 16 days in 1943 while the country was under Japanese occupation. After been retrofitted in 2017, the ruins are now utilized as an outdoor display area.

Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier.
The Intramuros Visitors Center is now located in the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier's ten chambers. The facility is furnished with an information desk, snack stands, and gift stores.

If you needed to go to the rest room, you'll find it in one of the chambers here. Going inside sent me little chills. I mean these walls are hundreds year old!

This is where we also had our lunch. We ate at Chamber Cafe at Manila Canvas. The food was divine. We had our cravings satisfied!

Ruins of Spanish Era Colonial Barracks

  • Fort Santiago's architecture incorporates both Spanish and Filipino elements, showcasing a blend of cultures.
  • The fort was named in honor of Saint James, Slayer of the Moors (Santiago Matamoros), the patron saint of Spain then.
  • During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army used Fort Santiago as a prison camp.
  • The fort was declared a national shrine in 1951. In 2014, the National Museum of the Philippines declared it as a National Cultural Treasure.

Hours Open:
M-F 8AM-10PM; last entry is at 8PM
S-Su 6AM- 10PM; last entry is at 8.30 PM

Entrance Fee: P75 (regular); P50 (discounted). Payment options: Cash, Maya or Gcash

How to get there. Fort Santiago is conveniently located within Intramuros, Manila. You can easily reach it by taking a taxi, Grab, or by walking if you're exploring Intramuros. For those using public transportation, LRT-1's Central Station is within walking distance or you can take a pedicab to take you there.

[Note: Please check for updated information regarding entrance fees, opening hours, and travel advisories before planning your visit to Fort Santiago.]


The first time I visited here was during a field trip in grade school. I was fascinated with the lush greens, the thick walls and stories behind. The last time I was here was during the late 90s. I was doing a school project then- a video presentation showcasing some of the historical sites in Manila.  I know it has been a long time already since I last set afoot here and I was more than glad to be back.

I can still remember during that field trip that we were not allowed to take photos inside the Rizal Museum. Stories had it that on one occasion, a visitor took photo inside and when it was developed (yes, this was 'Kodak' era), a reflection of our National Hero Jose P. Rizal appeared. Some say there have been sightings of JPR then on the museum. At present, one is allowed to take photos inside but without camera flash and taking video isn't allowed.

Fort Santiago in Intramuros isn't just a historical site; it's a living testament to the Philippines' complex past. You can learn about heroic tales and a country's tenacity as you go around its weathered walls and delve into its crevices. Wear your most comfortable shoes, bring your curiosity, and watch as Fort Santiago's history is revealed. I'm sure it will be a visit you won't forget.

1 comment:

  1. Ohhh thanks for sharing
    Napakahistorical at Napakagandang Lugar
    Definitely if makapasyal tayo dito ay siguradong mag eenjoy


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