Fort Santiago is the oldest Spanish bastion in the Philippines. Situated inside the walled city of Intramuros in Manila, the site witnessed many historical events of the Philippines.
The exact spot where Fort Santiago now stands was once a Muslim kingdom ruled by a chieftain named Rajah Sulayman. When the Spaniards landed in the Philippines in 1571, they destroyed the site and built a fortress instead, naming it after Spain’s patron saint, Saint James (Santiago in Spanish). The structure served as their defense fortress.
The original fort was made of logs and soil but was torn down by Chinese pirates under the command of Limahong in 1574. It was rebuilt using carved stones and mud cement between 1589 and 1592, but a terrible earthquake in 1645 damaged most parts of the structure again. The Spaniards then reconstructed the fortress from 1658 to 1663.
In 1762, the British came and ruled until 1764, using Fort Santiago as their headquarters. The Americans then arrived in 1778 and renovated the fort which became a U.S Army Philippines Division Command Center.
And in 1942 during World War II, the Japanese conquered the Philippines and made use of the fort as their military base and prison. It is said that they have imprisoned and tortured about 2,500 to 3,000 Filipinos and Americans in the site.
In 1945, the U.S Liberation Forces came and fought against the Japanese, causing severe damage to the fort. It then served as a depot of the U.S. Transportation Corps later on.
The U.S Military turned over the bastion to the Philippine Government in 1946, and it was announced as a Shrine of Freedom in 1950. A year later, the National Park Development Committee restored the fort and transferred it to the Intramuros Administration in 1992.
The fastest and most accessible way to reach the fort is by a guided tour of Old Manila, but you can also go on your own by public transport. If you're taking the LRT, get off at Central Station and take a quick walk to the Fort Entrance, or get off at Carriedo Station and catch a jeepney to Mabini.
It can be visited anytime but it’s best to go during dry season. Fort Santiago is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
There is a minimal entrance fee to Fort Santiago for adults. For students, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities, there is a discount.