Whenever the subject of Manila’s fortifications is discussed, automatically Fort Santiago is the one that first comes to mind. After all, it is the most well-known city fortification that has not only managed to survive the centuries, but also rose to become a popular tourist destination.
But hidden south of the city lies another historic fortification, smaller and understandably overlooked these days considering its current location. This is the Fort San Antonio Abad, Manila’s hidden fort that lies between the imposing Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas buildings and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
When the Spaniards conquered Manila in 1571, present-day Malate was then a sparsely-populated area by the Manila Bay. Nevertheless the Spaniards thought the area was a good place to build another fortification to defend the city, albeit smaller than the one they were building in Intramuros where the old Kingdom of Maynila was seated. In 1584, Fort San Antonio Abad was built to do just that, as well as to guard the route from Manila to Cavite in the south.
While the fort somehow served its purpose for about 200 years or so, in 1762, it became one of the first areas to fall under British hands when they launched an attack against the Spanish forces in Manila. Thus, Fort San Antonio Abad became a British garrison from where the British forces bombarded Intramuros by land while its navy was also pounding the Walled City from the city and led to the city falling under British control for two years.
After the British episode, the fort became a storage place for gunpowder but it would soon figure in another historic battle in August 1898 as the American and Spanish forces were “fighting it out” (supposedly). Fort San Antonio Abad became one of the “targets” of American forces who were able to capture with little difficulty.
I’m not sure if the Americans used the fort as a military facility but during World War II, it is said that the Japanese used it as a bunker and even put up a cannon as well. It was significantly damaged by the war but it was somewhat neglected for years until the 1970s thanks to a restoration effort which coincided with the establishment of a new main office complex for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. (or Central Bank of the Philippines as it was officially known before)
Around the same time, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila was opened in front of the old fort thus somehow enclosing the fort with the larger Bangko Sentral complex which included the museum and eventually by the 1990s, the Finance Department building. Interestingly, it can be said that the architecture of the Metropolitan Museum was made to somehow complement the architecture of the fort.
Nowadays, Fort San Antonio Abad stands as a battle-weary but proud structure now enjoying the quiet moments, save perhaps for some events being held there once in a while. Despite the high security in the Bangko Sentral complex, (which is understandable) it is not difficult to access the fort. One just has to pass by the Metropolitan Museum and check out the fort from the back entrance where one can appreciate this hidden fortress in its glory.