“You haven’t been to Fort Santiago?” And so my wife started chiding for not having visited Fort Santiago, like it’s a national sin. Last weekend I had my unplanned tour of Intramuros, particularly Fort Santiago. I made a quick stop to search for Kilometer 0 and to take photos of the Cory/Ninoy Aquino Shrine.
A kalesa driver (horse-drawn carriage) approached me and offered a tour of Intramuros. For a fee, of course. P250 for 30 minutes, which is quite reasonable considering that it would probably take that much time to finish the tour. My car was parked nearby but I thought there might be things he knows about Intramuros that I wouldn’t discover if I go around the area on my own. Good thing I decided to take that kalesa tour; otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered a few things.
First stop was Fort Santiago, tucked in one corner of Intramuros near the Manila Cathedral and the COMELEC. The driver/tour guide suggested Fort Santiago, something which I didn’t know is found here. How can I say “no” to an opportunity to discover and explore something new?
There are a number of significant nooks of Fort Santiago, with the Rizal Shrine as the centerpiece.
Silid ng Pagninilay (Contemplation Room)
One goes through the Contemplation Room before seeing the Prison Cell of Jose Rizal. The Contemplation Room is around 5×5 meters with lines attributed to Rizal. These phrases capture the Rizal’s sense of patriotism, and his resolve to fight and die for the liberty of his country, the Philippines.
Some of the lines, carved through wood and lighted from within for effect, are the following:
“Man ought to die for his duty and his convictions. I maintain all the ideas that I have expressed concerning the state and future of my country and gladly I’ll die for her, nay, to obtain justice and tranquility for you.”
“I have always loved my poor country and I’m sure i shall love her until my last moment, should men prove unjust to me. I shall die happy, satisfied with the thought that all I have suffered, my life, my loves, my joys, my everything, I have sacrificed for the love of her.”
“I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our duty and convictions.”
Ang Piitan (Prison Cell) of Jose Rizal
At the right wall of the Contemplation Room is the entrance to a model of Rizal’s detention cell, with a representation of Rizal sitting on a desk. The location marker reads: “In this cell Jose Rizal was detained prisoner from 3 November to the morning of 29 December 1896 falsely charged with rebellion, sedition and formation of illegal societies.
After the reading of the court sentence at 6:00 A.M. 29 December, he was kept in an improvised chapel until his execution at 7:03 A.M. 30 December 1896 on the Luneta, Bagumbayan Field, Manila.”
Bulwagan ng Panulat (Chamber of Text)
This is not a chamber of “text” messages in your cellphone, but a collection of writings of Rizal, as well as other artifacts of note. It also has the first edition of “Noli Me Tangere”, one of the novels written by Rizal, and the “El Filibusterismo, the other novel, displayed in glass casings. Rizal’s poems are etched on panels beautifully arranged side by side.
Silid ng Nalalabi (The Reliquary Room)
This room, found at the second floor adjacent to the room containing the Valedictory Poem, contains actual relics from Rizal’s life, including a number of overcoats that he wore. It also has a glass urn which contains a bone of Rizal, together with a bullet still embedded in the bone. A quote from Felice P. Sta. Maria, etched on the glass case protecting the glass urn, reads:
“After the execution, the name Rizal was not to be spoken. He was referred to safely as El Difunto (The Dead One). He has been abandoned directly in the soil. After the Philippines declared itself independent on June 12, 1898, it honored Rizal officially. Narcisa retrieved her brother’s remains and placed them in an ivory urn. A bone with a bullet would was enshrined separately in a glass urn and is now a secular relic at Fort Santiago.”
Ang Tulang Walang-Hanggan (The Valedictory Poem)
A marker somewhere in the shrine notes: “On the eve of his martyrdom, he wrote and addressed to his countrymen a memorable farewell poem entitled “Mi Ultimo Adios”, a reproduction of which may be seen in his shrine.” The poem is contained in an entire room, which is bare except for three noteworthy items. First, the full poem is etched on the farthest wall. Second, the story of how the poem was written and stashed inside a lamp, preventing it from being discovered by the Spanish authorities, is beautifully etched on the wooden floor. Third, also displayed, encased by glass like all other items here, is a replica of the lamp in which the poem was hidden.
The rooms mentioned here are part of the Rizal Shrine, a modern museum built in 1953. The brick bruins around the shrine form part of the oldest building in Fort Santiago. The entrance houses a painting by National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos “Botong” Francisco, entitled “The Martyrdom of Rizal”.
A marker at the shrine summarizes the important details of Rizal’s life as a national hero and martyr: “Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal is our National hero and Martyr, the greatest apostle of Filipino nationalism.
At the age of 16, he graduated with highest honors from the Ateneo de Manila in 1877. In 1882, he went to Spain to pursue medical studies which he started at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. At the age of 24, he completed courses in medicine and philosophy and letters at the Universidad Central de Madrid.
He traveled extensively in Europe where he took graduate courses in Paris and Heidelberg. He spoke Tagalog and seven European languages including Greek and Latin. He had a reading knowledge of Visayan and Ilocano dialects.
To secure political and social reforms and to educate his countrymen, he published several nationalistic and revolutionary works in Europe. The “Noli Me Tangere” was published in 1887 in Berlin. This is a satirical novel exposing the despotism of the colonial government and the local clergy. In 1891, he published “El Filibusterismo”, his second novel. This novel, printed in Ghent, Belgium, is a story of how Filipinos were driven to outlawry by the rampant injustices committed in their country. Both novels are vivid pictures of the sad plight of the Filipinos during the Spanish regime.
In 1888, he edited Morga’s “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas”, a historical work in which he proved that the Filipinos had a worthy civilization prior to the coming of the Spaniards.
He was imprisoned in this very place on a fictitious charge made by the Spaniards in July of 1892. The next four years were spent in Dapitan as an exile.
He volunteered for medical duties in Cuba in 1896 (but before reaching his destination, he was ordered to return to Manila because the Philippine Revolution suddenly broke out. A military court convicted him of rebellion and sedition and for having formed an illegal association. He was executed by a firing squad at Luneta park on December 30, 1898.”
The Ruins in Fort Santiago
While the Rizal Shrine is the heart of Fort Santiago, it comprises only a small portion of the entire premises. The stone structures of this fortress still exists until today. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe quietly sits in one corner, currently inaccessible because the golf course passes through the space between the shrine and other portions of the fort.
Fort Santiago is perhaps the strongest part of the walled city of Intramuros. It’s a fortress built for the Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi. A single passageway, flanked by moats on both sides, leads to the main entrance. It provides an excellent defensive position along the Pasig River, the main artery going inland from the Manila Bay (the Pasig River could be seen at the right side of the photo).
Information from the location: “One of the oldest fortifications in Manila. Built in 1571, on the site of the native settlement of Raja Soliman. First fort was a palisaded structure of logs and earth. Destroyed in the Limahong attack in 1574. Stone fort built between 1589 and 1592. Damaged in the 1645 earthquake. Repaired and strengthened from 1658 to 1663. Because the headquarters of the British occupation army from 1762 to 1764. Repaired and renovated in 1778.
Former headquarters of the Philippine Division of the U.S. Army. Occupied by the Japanese military in 1942 where hundreds of civilians and guerillas were imprisoned, tortured and executed. Destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945.
Used as depot of the U.S. Transportation Corps before turnover to the Philippine Government in 1946. Declared Shrine of Freedom in 1950. Restoration and maintenance of the fort began in 1951 under the National Park Development Committee.”
Visit Fort Santiago and Intramuros
Perhaps that’s too much history to take in one sitting. These things were not concrete for me during school days, reading about Rizal and Intramuros from textbooks. It’s different seeing the real thing, walking through the ruins and observing the relics.
There’s one more tidbit I learned in the Intramuros tour. No, it’s not the Filipino reincarnations of the dreaded gwardiya sibil (guardia civil) of the Spanish colonial era (security personnel who wears the guardia civil uniform). Remember the P250 per 30 minutes for the kalesa ride? They’ll wait for you while touring Fort Santiago. You’ll definitely take around two hours to tour the Fort and the clock is ticking. So, either pay the P250 when you step down at Fort Santiago or negotiate a reasonable amount for the entire trip.
You can take a leisurely walk around Fort Santiago or have a picnic in some areas. You could also have a tour aboard the tranvia, a pre-war Manila street car. Contact: 527-2961 (Intramuros Visitors Center); 527-2961 (Fort Santiago Office); 527-3138 (Intramuros Administration).