Strategically located on the mouth of the Pasig River in the Bay of Manila is Fort Santiago. It is one of the most well-known structure within Manila and frequented by tourists and locals due to its rich and dark history including housing the prison cell of the country’s national hero, dr. Jose P. Rizal.
Before it was known as Fort Santiago, Manila was headed by a Sultan named Rajah Sulaiman, who built a wooden fortification on this sight. Since the Spanish conquistadors led by Martin de Goiti arrived and defeated the natives, they built and replaced the site in 1571 and renamed it Fuerza de Santiago or more widely known as Fort Santiago. The fort which was initially constructed making use of wood and clay. This fort was heavily damaged by Chinese Pirates during the Chinese-Spanish war and rebuilt with stone walls in 1592. The Fort is integrated in the walls of Intramuros and served for over 300 years as the main port for the spice trade.
For the Filipinos, the fort is most popular for housing the prison cell of their national hero dr. Jose P. Rizal. He wrote the books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which they say sparked the Filipino revolutionary group Katipunan and thus he was arrested by the Spaniards in November 1896 and locked up in Fort Santiago. While imprisoned here, Rizal wrote his most famous poem dedicated to his beloved country, Mi Ultimo Adios which means My Last Farewell. He was sentenced to death on December 26 and was executed by firing squad on December 30 in Bagumbayan or now known as Luneta/Rizal Park. As a tribute to him, a separate building called Rizal Shrine was built where copies of his works, artifacts and paintings depicting him is displayed. There is also a room where his final poem Mi Ultimo Adios was engraved in the sandstone in big letters. At the end is a small room without windows which served as Rizal’s prison cell where there is statue depicting him writing his final poem. This is the place where Rizal his mother and his sister met for the last time.
The horrific history of Fort Santiago doesn’t end there because during World War II, the Japanese used the fort as dungeons for their American and Filipino captives. They were made to squeeze in the tiny cramped dungeons and left there to die. In an effort to save their imprisoned comrades, the fort was again heavily damaged by shelling from American and Philippine forces and restored to its current state in 1982. Today, Fort Santiago serves as a museum of the Spanish legacy and a memorial of Jose P. Rizal. Many foreigners and students on their educational tour include a visit to Fort Santiago and was never failed by its rich history although the place needs some improvement and restoration due to safety and aesthetic reasons.
There is a small souvenir shop and restaurant within the premises. Fort Santiago is open daily from 8am to 6pm. A small admission fee is charged at the entrance.