The historic Fort Santiago, in the heart of the walled city of Intramuros, is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Manila because of its scenic ruins, rich culture, history and lessons from Filipino heroes who fought for the country's liberation from colonizers.
A Beautiful Day At Fort Santiago
1. Plaza Moriones
Plaza Moriones used to be a public square until the Spanish Guardia Civil fenced it off in 1864 after an earthquake. The space takes its name from the 87th Spanish Governor General of the Philippines, Domingo Moriones y Murillo. Moriones was a tough veteran of the Carlist Wars in Spain upon his arrival in 1877, he ended a mutiny by decimating the rebellious regiment. The wall along Plaza Moriones' western side—the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier—was formerly used to store military supplies; presently the Intramuros Visitor's Center occupies part of the former storage space in the walls, alongside an art gallery, souvenir shop, and café. Fort Santiago tour is not complete without a visit to Plaza Moriones. The plaza itself is an open garden with an array of life-size statuary around the fringes—monks, soldiers, and historical figures populate Plaza Moriones. This is where you can get your Fort Santiago tickets.
2. The Gate
The actual Fort Santiago doesn't begin until you cross the bridge across the moat from Plaza Moriones onto Fort Santiago's doorstep. You will find this gate after purchasing your Fort Santiago tickets. The intricately carved gate bears the royal seal of Spain and a wooden relief sculpture of St. James (Santiago Matamoros, or Saint James the Moor-killer), the patron saint of Spain. The relief sculpture depicts St. James crushing Muslims under his horse's hooves, an image that resonated particularly well with the Spanish conquistadores, who defeated Muslim natives to gain the site of Fort Santiago in battle.
3. Plaza de Armas
Fort Santiago proper consists of a central plaza (Plaza de Armas) surrounded by walls and ruins of barracks and storehouses. Formerly the nerve center of the Spanish military presence in the Philippines, the fort has now been transformed into a tribute to its most famous prisoner, the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. His statue stands at the very center of the plaza. You can't miss this on your Fort Santiago tour. The fort's military barracks lies mostly in ruins, except for a section that has been transformed into the Rizal Shrine, a museum that chronicles Rizal's life, his untimely death at the hands of the Spanish, and the ripple effects of his martyrdom on the Philippine struggle for independence.
4. Rizal Shrine
From November 3 to December 29, 1896, Jose Rizal was held in the Fort Santiago barracks on the western side of Plaza de Armas, where he was sentenced to death for supporting a brewing revolution against Spanish rule. Rizal's route as a dead man walking has been preserved as a series of bronze footprints leading out from Fort Santiago to the gate exiting Intramuros. The origin of the footprints—part of the old barrack—has been spruced up and transformed into the Rizal Shrine, where Rizal's life unfolds before the visitor. This is worth a visit if you want to learn about the history during your Fort Santiago tour. Starting with a timeline of Rizal's life, the exhibit guides guests through numerous rooms depicting his martyrdom (complete with the only part of Rizal's anatomy viewable by the public, his bullet-shattered vertebra); a replica of the courtroom that decided his fate; and a room that features Rizal's legacy—from reproductions of his sketches and sculptures to his last poem engraved in marble and taking up an entire wall.
5. Baluarte de Santa Barbara
The Baluarte de Santa Barbara, set at the extreme northwest of Fort Santiago, overlooks the Pasig River. The Falsabraga de Media Naranja, a semicircular gun platform now free of guns, extends in a semicircle over the water. Under the Baluarte lies the Bastion de San Lorenzo, which stored artillery and weapons in Spanish and American times. This area is accessible with your Fort Santiago tickets. The Bastion also doubled as a dungeon, where Jose Rizal was confined prior to his execution, and where thousands suffered lingering torture and death at the hands of the Japanese kempeitai during the short but brutal Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Many of these victims are commemorated through a cross that stands over a mass grave; this cross can be found overlooking the Plaza de Armas in front of the Bateria de Santa Barbara.
6. Other Things To Do At Fort Santiago
After doing all the things above on your Fort Santiago, you can relax for a little bit before continuing the tour. While you're at the fort, study some of the relics from Rizal's life including artworks, books, manuscripts and clothing. See a glass urn containing one of his bones with a bullet still embedded. Look at the small prison cell where he was kept for several weeks before his execution by firing squad, then sit in a replica of the cramped cell. Footsteps on the ground retrace the steps Rizal took to his place of execution in what is now Rizal Park. After that, you can walk among the tropical trees in the park surrounding the fort. All these are accessible with Fort Santiago tickets.
How to Get Tickets?
You need to purchase Fort Santiago tickets to explore it. The ticket counter that allows access to Fort Santiago is set at the gate of a large garden square called Plaza Moriones. Visitors must pay PHP 100 (about $2.10) to enter and do a Fort Santiago tour.
How To Get Around?
Fort Santiago tour can be done by walking. It's a nice area and best explroed by walking. You should make a few stops to read about the history and enjoy it. The other attractions nearby are also accessible by foot.
What Should I Wear?
There is no dress code at Fort Santiago tour, you just need to wear comfortable shoes to be able to explore it.
Best Time to Visit
The fort can be visited at any time of the year, it's up to you to visit it during high or low season. Fort Santiago is open on all days of the week - from Tuesdays to Sundays, guests can enter from 8 am to 9 pm, with a one-hour break at 12 noon; on Mondays, the Fort is only open from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Will I Need a Guide?
No, you can find all useful informations on this website before visiting the fort. There are people offering guided Fort Santiago tours, however it is not necessary. Signs are in English and touring the fort on your own is a great experience.
How To Get There?
Fort Santiago is an eight-minute walk away from Manila Cathedral; travelers must cross Soriano Avenue, pursuing General Luna Street to its northernmost end where it intersects with Santa Clara Street.
Please be respectful when you are at the fort, don't throw your trash anywhere except the bin. Watch over your belongings, you never know when there's a pickpocket around.