What place on earth is 693 miles from Hongkong, 1,719 miles from Tokyo, 1,497 miles from Singapore, 3,044 miles from Sydney, 6,672 miles from Madrid, and 6,972 miles from San Francisco? It’s 48 kilometers west of Manila and traditionally served as a gateway into this Philippine capital. It’s Corregidor Island. The exact location of the direction marker is the Spanish Lighthouse. The lighthouse has guided mariners for hundreds of years and has seen countless battles and wars, the most destructive of which is World War II.
The lighthouse, built by the Spaniards and first lighted in the 1850s, stands at the highest point of Corregidor, which name is derived from the Spanish term corregir, meaning “to correct”.
Corregidor Island used to be a checkpoint for vessels entering Manila Bay. It was a Spanish Island for 327 years, since 19 May 1571 when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi first occupied it in the name of Spain.
A lighthouse is traditionally used as beacon to guide mariners navigating the area. The Corregidor lighthouse no doubt served this purpose. If we consider that Corregidor served as a fortress guarding Manila Bay, it is easy to see that the lighthouse also served as an observation platform for military purposes.
On top of the lighthouse, one would have an unobstructed view of the the entire Corregidor Island, the Manila Bay, the South China Sea, as well as the provinces of Bataan and Cavite. Today’s tourists climbing the circular steel stairs of the Spanish lighthouse, while out of breath from the climb, would definitely marvel at the breathtaking view.
The view back in 1898 or 1845 would also be breathtaking, but for another life-or-death reason.
Imagine yourself going up the lighthouse stairs in 1898 and reaching the observation platform, seeing American warships from afar beyond the range of the island’s defenses. You’ll see distant flashes as the big guns of these warships commence firing. You’ll hear the familiar whistling sound as the deadly projectiles draw near. Then you’ll realize that the range of the big warship guns could easily reach the island. Ka-boom!
American forces pounded Corregidor during the Spanish-American War of 1898. After 327 years, Corregidor Island ceased to be a part of Spain on 2 May 1898. Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States of America. The Americans improved the lighthouse which was erected and first lit in the 1850s.
Or imagine going up the lighthouse in 1941-1942, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippines during World War II. Climbing the lighthouse would be tantamount to suicide as the heavy Japanese bombings reduced Corregidor to ruins. Corregidor Island, the last bastion of defense of the American-Philippine forces, fell to the Japanese in 6 May 1942. [Read also Corregidor: History in the Ruins and Corregidor: Araw ng Kagitingan]
More bombs and artillery shells rained when the American-Philippine forces started the campaign to retake the Philippines in 1945. Surprisingly, the lighthouse still stood, though badly damaged. The lighthouse was demolished in 1950 and the remaining bricks were used in the reconstructed lighthouse that we see now.
The existing lighthouse is not an exact replica of the old Spanish lighthouse, although it followed its general shape. Much of the tower length is octagonal, rather than rounded. The base is no longer octagonal, but appears to have 12 sides.
Not that we had the opportunity to count the exact number of sides when we were there. We were too busy wondering why the Spanish Museum at the base of the lighthouse is more of a micro-museum. Or trying to catch our breath as we went up the stairs, trying in vain to avoid contact between the rusting rails and our sweaty palms. Height is not a friend of ours, and the panoramic view at the old Spanish lighthouse seemed to pull us off the observation deck.
Still, it’s a spectacular sight to behold. The white walls that contrast with the brick-red roofs and the blue sky. The green foliage that blends with the bluish green sea. The contour of mountains of the neighboring mainland framing the sunny sky. This is a picture-perfect setting, with the salty, fresh breeze neatly tying everything into a memorable experience.