City of Manila

Fort Santiago in Flux – Part 1

What else can be said about Fort Santiago? It is one of the most famous historic tourist destinations in Manila, perhaps in the Philippines as well. It’s one of the first places tourists are taken in the city. And if one is asked about Manila, this is one of the first places that comes to mind.

That should not come to surprise as Fort Santiago is considered to be the place where the city that we have come to know as Manila evolved from. After all, the fort was where the throne of the pre-Hispanic Kingdom of Maynilad was located, itself a fortified area (albeit made of bamboo and wood fortification). And when the Spaniards came and eventually conquered the old Kingdom of Maynilad, they would establish the new capital city of the newly-established Spanish colony of Filipinas in the premises of the old wooden fort. Eventually, the wood was replaced with thick adobe stone walls as a means to defend the new city.

The fort and greater Walled City it is part of has gone so much drastic changes (war being a prime culprit). Nevertheless, Fort Santiago, for the most part at least, has been kept intact thanks to the preservation and the restoration works being done in the area over the years. The recent and ongoing restoration works in the Fort Santiago complex though, had some people shaking their heads at the very least. The truth is, there have been some radical changes in the complex that if your last visit was at least a year ago, you will be greatly surprised should you make your visit today. The Urban Roamer certainly did.

Figures representing Pres. Manuel Quezon and Gen. Douglas MacArthur in a conversation. If you’ve been to Intramuros the past 10 years or so, you would have noticed they have been moved around Intramuros quite often. Now, they are located in Fort Santiago in front of the American Barracks.

To understand the changes made to Fort Santiago, one has to understand the history of the fort and the surrounding areas which form the greater fort complex, which over the years has come to include not just the fort premises but the adjacent areas that make up Intramuros’ southwest cluster up to Calle Santa Clara. While technically not part of the fort itself, the area outside Fort Santiago shared the same military heritage as that of Fort Santiago, having served as military headquarters for Spanish, American, and Japanese forces for almost 400 years.

Separating the complex from the street is a fence which is actually more than a century old, and not originally part of the complex. The fence was originally located in a private property in Paco owned by Vicente Madrigal. The fence was said to have been donated by his heirs to the Intramuros Administration, thus the fence has come to be known as the Madrigal Fence. But what makes this fence more historic in value is that the fence, and the property where it was originally located, was part of the original De La Salle (pre-University) campus in Paco, before it moved in the 1920s to its present site in Malate.

It helps that the entrance gate has been moved a bit towards the center as opposed to the original location at the corner, giving more prominence to the storied Madrigal fence and better appreciate the view of Plaza Moriones, the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier on the left and the Almacenes Reales on the right. More on these locations in a bit.

The Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier, named after the Spanish name of Jesuit saint Francis Xavier, originally built in the early 1600s as a warehouse for military supplies of the Spanish colonial forces. It was also served as where the American flag was first hoisted in Philippine soil on August 13, 1898. It was heavily damaged during World War II and was restored by the 1950s and, at one time, served as a museum of Philippine presidential cars. In 1993, the area was converted to become the Intramuros Visitors Center, where its cellars were converted to commercial establishments are located, including the Manila Collectible Co., as well as the Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation where they hold those regular photography lessons.

Also of note by the way is the passageway at the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier leading to the Reducto de San Francisco Javier, another layer of defense added in the area. It now serves as an open area with chapel established in 1993 dedicated to the Marian image of the Lady of Guadalupe.

Right next to the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier is the building known as the American Barracks, which seems to imply it was built during the American colonial period. As the name implies, it served as barracks for the American colonial forces, as well as that of the Japanese during World War II. Since it was bombed during the war, the building has been left in ruins, though the current restoration works being done in Fort Santiago eyes the restoration of the barracks and its surroundings such as the playground and Martyr’s Monument as one of the project’s components.

Martyrs’ Wall Monument near the American Barracks

The opposite side remains underutilized as far as tourism value is concerned. However the old Almacenes Reales is of interest. The former warehouse utilized during the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade is of interest, it was converted to be soldiers’ quarters after the 1863 earthquake. It was often closed to visitors, but as part of the revitalization efforts for Fort Santiago, the Almacenes Reales is now open for more visitors to check out.

Then, there’s the centerpiece of this part of the Fort Santiago complex, not to mention the most controversial: the Plaza Moriones. It is said though that the area the plaza is at right now used to be occupied by warehouses. It eventually became a public promenade but was converted into a military parade ground of sorts in 1863. Eventually it became a public space again and went through many changes, the most famous of which is its incarnation as a garden which was opened in the 1980s.

Now with the current restoration efforts going on at Fort Santiago, the Plaza Moriones went through a heavy transformation as it became an open space again as was originally intended, while green has been kept intact in some places. This has caught the ire of some people like Carlos Celdran who believed that the restoration works hurt the “value” which is as that of the garden. While such sentiments are understandable, after having learned the history of Plaza Moriones, it’s hard to argue as well with the reasoning of the Intramuros Administration and Tourism Infrastructure And Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) which is to remind people that it is after all a plaza and a parade ground at one point, and not the garden people remember it to be for the past 20+ years or so.

Plaza Moriones, 2007
Plaza Moriones, 2017

But it seems the controversy seems to have cooled down at this point as developments in Fort Santiago are thankfully moving forward.


To be continued…


Acknowledgements to the Intramuros Administration, Vic Torres’ “Ciudad Murada: A Walk Through Historic Intramuros”, and the Inquirer


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