Rizal Shrine At Fort Santiago

PICTURE-TAKING FINALLY ALLOWED. Government announced free admission for all government-run museums in celebration of the 112th anniversary of Philippine Independence. On that day we went museum hopping around Luneta and Intramuros. While we were able to save a few bucks to see the Spolarium at the National Arts Gallery, we were disappointed to pay the 75 pesos entrance fee in Fort Santiago which is managed by the Intramuros Administration, a government agency.

Nothing spectacular has been added to Fort Santiago since our  visit in 2008 except for the function area built from the ruins of the old Spanish Storehouse which was off limits that day. Thankfully, the National Historical Institute who runs the Jose Rizal Shrine at Fort Santiago has permitted picture-taking inside the museum. Picture taking has been banned from most museums, but for a family who regularly visits national landmarks, this initiative by NHI makes our trips more engaging and memorable.

FORTRESS OF THE SPANISH EMPIRE. Fort Santiago in Intramuros was built in 1571 to protect the mouth of the Pasig River. It was a strategic Spanish military fortress that holds many Tales of Death from its Dungeons and Jail Cells.

During World War II, hundreds of the Filipinos and American soldiers imprisoned in its dungeons died from drowning while the waters from the Pasig River flooded the cells during high tide.

RIZAL’S JAIL CELL. One of the fort’s famous prisoner was  Jose Rizal. The Filipino national hero was incarcerated in the fort until he was marched to The Killing Fields of Old Manila -Luneta. A national shrine was built in his honor from the ruins of a Spanish military barracks at Fort Santiago.

RIZAL SHRINE. We entered the Rizal Shrine using the entrance on the side of the reconstructed barracks. Quartered on the ground floor are quaint items ranging from the classic to the macabre museum pieces including some books, medical tools, photos, and pieces of sculpture displayed in vertical showcases.

MI ULTIMO ADIOS. Since its opening, taking pictures were not encouraged inside the museum until recently when NHI chairman and historian Ambeth Ocampo allowed visitors to take souvenir pictures inside the national landmarks.

Rizal’s prison cell was located in the old pantry. It is in this room where Rizal has supposedly written the Mi Ultimo Adios on the eve of his execution, which he hid in a food warmer given to him by the Pardo de Taveras. The food warmer and a reproduction of the original manuscript printed on a 9×15 centimeter paper are displayed in one of the rooms on the second floor.

The Mi Ultimo Adios  is considered as one of the most moving and beautiful poems written in Spanish and was penned perfectly without erasures or drafts. Some historians believe that Rizal has planned every heroic detail of his life including his valedictory poem which he wanted everyone to believe he has written overnight.

Whether planned or not, the genius in Rizal is not diminished. Nick Joaquin suggested that the poem has been running through his head during his incarceration, and maybe even before that; and what he wrote down on the night of December 29, 1896 was but the final and complete version of a poem long in progress.

RIZAL’S VERTERBRA. Three years after Rizal’s execution, his family were allowed to exhume his remains from Paco Cemetery to their home in the San Nicholas District in Binondo. Later, all the bones were given rightful honors and were interned under the Rizal monument in Luneta except for a section of his vertebra.

Upon reaching the second floor, we entered a room where a piece of Rizal’s vertebra is displayed in a glass urn. Closer look at the piece of vertebra reveals a cracked or a chipped portion believed to be where the bullet from the firing squad hit Rizal on December 30, 1896.

RIZALIANA FURNITURE. Leaving the old Spanish barracks, we walked on top of the curtain wall connecting the old barracks to the Baluarte de Sta. Barbara which houses the Rizaliana Furniture Collection. The furniture and furnishings on exhibit were donated to the Philippine government by Trinidad Rizal, the unmarried sister of Jose Rizal to whom the food warmer containing the legendary valedictory poem was handed over.

In 1954, the descendants of Saturnina Rizal-Hildago, eldest sister of Jose, turned over various furniture from the Idyllic Ancestral Home of the Mercados in Calamba including the dining set, four-poster bed, and a number of aparadores.

Also on display are furniture pieces used by the Rizals during their exiled in Hongkong. The sofa, washbasin and stand were used by Rizal in his clinic in Hongkong.


A Pilgrimage to the Philippine Trail of Freedom


The Philippines has hundreds of historic sites. These sites offer three-dimensional learning spaces that tell the story of the Filipino quest for freedom. Stories best told by following the trail blazed by those valiant men and women who fought for our independence.


The following is a review of the pilgrimage made by theTraveler on Foot to these historic sites. These monuments and shrines gave us a meaningful narrative of the significant events related to the revolutionary struggle, weaving the story behind our celebration of Philippine Independence.







Jose Rizal had become the soul of the Philippine Revolution. He was martyred by firing squad at the age of 35, for allegedly instigating and leading the independence revolution which ironically he was not in favor off and did not organize. Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 in the first bahay-na-bato to be built in the sleepy agricultural town of Calamba in Laguna.



The Idyllic Ancestral Home of the Mercados in Calamba







The colonial government responded to the Revolution by instituting a reign of terror. Some who died or who were tortured were die-hards for independence, others were semi-committed, and still others were innocents framed intentionally or simply bystanders. Some were implicated by just being related to or working with a known separatist.


Intramuros’ Fort Santiago, dedicated to St. James the Apostle, the patron saint of Spain, was witness to incarcerations, just and unjust. Few survived to tell the horror of its notorious death hole.



Tales of Death from the Dungeons and Jail Cells of Fort Santiago








Just outside the centuries-old Walled City of Intramuros, on the fringe of the historic Manila de Bay is Luneta, a landmark that was once used as an execution ground for Filipino patriots who dared turn against the Spanish Colonial Empire.



Killing Fields of Old Manila

The Fireworks that cost the lives of GOMBURZA







Jose Rizal’s banishment in the secret of the night, three days after he had catalyzed formation of La Liga Filipina (The Filipino League) startled the Filipino reform community. Probably shocked by the news about Rizal and the confused about the League’s direction, five men gathered in the house of Deodato Arellano at No.72 Azcarraga Street (now known as Claro M Recto Avenue) near the corner of El Cano to create a secret society known as the Katipunan.



Leading to be Free

Historical Markers in Manila’s San Nicholas District




Pugad Lawin



Historians still debate over the exact dates and locations of the famous Cry of Bonifacio. This historic event was the day when 1,000 Katipuneros gathered together and tore up their cedulas in a collective gesture of defiance that marked the start of the Philippine Revolution.



Monuments to Bonifacio’s Cry

From Vinzon’s Hall to Monumento: Retracing the Image of Bonifacio in our Consciousness




San Juan 



 The Battle of Pinaglabanan is the symbol of the Katipunero’s baptism of fire on August 30, 1896.


Pinaglabanan was the first major battle fought, and the initial Katipunero mortification. Katipuneros were never involved into professional army. They moved on foot, had few rifles and guns, but were prepared to fight hand-to-hand, man-to-man. 



Katipunero’s Baptism of Fire








The streets of Taal are lined with large and well-preserved bahay-na-bato, mostly owned by aristocratic illustrados and wealthy merchants who prospered during the economic boom in 1841 brought by the planting of Mexican coffee. However, the coffee industry declined in the 1890s due to a certain type of worm that infested the coffee farms.


Taal also boasts of ancestral houses of prominent Taalenos who took an active role in the struggle for Philippine Independence. Two important houses are the Marcela Marino Agoncillo Museum and Monument and the Leon Apacible Museum and Library.



Taal’s Houses of History







As a kick off for the celebration of Philippine Independence, Traveler on Foot recounts his experience during a visit at the Aguinaldo Mansion in Cavite, the place where the monumental event that changed the course of our history as a nation took place 110 years ago. 


The Sentimental Aguinaldo Mansion

The Historic Kalabaw








Brought by the complications caused by the United States of America, President Aguinaldo transferred the seat of government from Bacoor to Malolos in Bulacan to safeguard the interest of the new Philippine Repulic.


As President of the Revolutionary Government, Aguinaldo issued for a proclamation calling for the meeting of the delegates of the first Philippine Congress in Malolos.



Barasoain: Birthplace of Asia’s First Constitutional Democracy

Casa Real de Malolos

Kamistisuhan District


Tales of Death from the Dungeons and Jail Cells of Fort Santiago


The colonial government responded to the Revolution by instituting a reign of terror. Some who died or who were tortured were die-hards for independence, others were semi-committed, and still others were innocents framed intentionally or simply bystanders. Some were implicated by just being related to or working with a known separatist. 

Intramuros’ Fort Santiago, dedicated to St. James the Apostle, the patron saint of Spain, was witness to incarcerations, just and unjust. Few survived to tell the horror of its notorious death hole.



The Notorious Hole of Death

Henri Turot wrote a simple journalistic account of what he saw while covering the Philippine struggle and what he had derived from studying documents of the era.

The horrible “hole of death” was instituted at Fort Santiago. The military thought torture could scare the revolutionists into submission. Turot quotes heavily from the account of a survivor named Tung Tao. 

The Hole was a dungeon abandoned for a century. “It was full of rotting water and infested with rats, snakes, and all kinds of vermin.” Having but a small hole for air to enter, everyone packed inside as many as 170 at a time died of asphyxiation overnight. 

Among those thrown into the Hole was “the brother of Han-Kai, one of the bravest mestizo leaders from Batangas” whose eyes had been plucked out and his feet burned. 

Tung Tao, Han Kai, and Han Kai’s brother, and all those considered leaders were interrogated and subjected to a slow and horrible death. Foot soldiers were garroted, shot, stabbed. Torture included the usual whipping (done in public and even to women who failed to attend Mass), dropping into the well head first, and other means of punishment and interrogation typical of the period in different parts of the civilized world.


 Jose Rizal’s Final Incarceration

Under the charges of sedition and rebellion, Fort Santiago became Jose Rizal’s prison starting November 3, 1896. While standing trial and awaiting sentence, the 35-year old patriot stayed alone, incommunicado in a cell improvised out of a pantry that had barely any daylight. 

Rizal had been familiar with the place. He had been taken to the fort in 1892, before his exile to Dapitan. The only difference this imprisonment and the former was that now he faced not exile, but execution. 

Rizal underwent a trial by the Council of War. On December 26, the Council sentenced him to death, affirming that he was the “author” of the August rebellion against Spain that was actually initiated by Andres Bonifacio. 

On December 29, Rizal was officially notified of his sentence. He read the report of the auditor, but insisting on his innocence, refused to sign the document. Instead, he noted: “Informed, but not in conformity, for I am innocent.”

Rizal was moved to a temporary chapel cell a day before his execution. The room had an altar to help the condemned prepare to face death. Rizal spent his last hours receiving many visitors, among them were family members, a number of Jesuits, some Spanish officials and a Spanish newspaper correspondent. 

During the 1945 Battle for Manila, the dungeons and cells of Rizal were destroyed. His initial prison was rebuilt in the 1950s to approximate the original buildings and its interiors.

Today, Fort Santiago was restored as a park. A shrine was dedicated to the memory of its illustrious prisoner. 

Information source: Visions of the Possible, Felice Prudente-Santa Maria 

The Fortress of Empire: Fort Santiago

The old fortress of the Spanish Empire, Fort Santiago was named after Santiago Matamoro (St. James Slayer of the Moors). Guarding the entrance of the Pasig River from Manila Bay, this formidable fort was built on the site of Rajah Sulayman’s original wooden fort.    



Fort Santiago may not be as old as Cebu’s Fort San Pedro (the first and oldest colonial fort built in the country), but it had significantly served as military headquarters of Spain, British, United States and Japan during different eras in our history. 



The arched entrances, the silent moats, the dimly-lit tunnels and the solid walls of its dungeons stood witness to the Tales of Death from the Dungeons and Jail Cells of Fort Santiago



Plaza Moriones


Fort Santiago tour begins at Plaza Moriones, a public promenade until it was fenced off by the Spanish military in 1864. Located at the left side of the park is the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier. It was built by Governnor Sabiniano Manrique de Lara to protect the old postern gate when the first Governor’s Palace was located inside the fort until 1654. Its chambers stored military supplies. Today, it houses the Intramuros Visitor’s Center.


Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier is adjoined by a tunnel that leads to the Reducto de San Francisco Javier, which now enshrines the image of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. 



Before crossing the other side of the plaza, we passed by the American barracks where Ferdinand Marcos was imprisoned.


Across the other side of Plaza Moriones is the ruins of the Almacenes Reales or the Royal Warehouse where the goods brought in by the galleons were stored. A chapel dedicated to the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion used to stand at the far end of the Almacenes. It served as chapel for the military and audencia. It was destroyed during a great fire and was never rebuilt.


Passing by the picnic ground is the Artelleria de Maestranza or royal foundry where the Spanish cast cannons and ammunitions. The bronze statue of King Carlos IV at Plaza Roma was cast on the Maestranza.




Plaza Armas



A small bridge over the moat leads visitors to the main gate of the fort. The only original structures at the entrance are the two sentinels located at the sides. The rest were blown up during the 1945 Liberation.  


Guarding its flanks were the Medio Baluarte de San Francisco on the river side and Baluarte de San Miguel on the bay.



Plaza Armas was the fort’s main square. It is surrounded by military barracks. To the north side of the plaza was a barracks, which is the probable site of the wooden fort of Rajah Sulayman. On south side are the ruins of a Spanish barracks and building that was reconstructed to house the Rizal Shrine.



A postern leading to Pasig River located at the far north of the plaza called Postigo de la Nuestra Señora de Soledad was used by Governor Simon de Anda to escape from the British when the city was breached.




Near the postern is the chapel cell where Jose Rizal spent the nigh before he was led to his execution.




Baluarte de Santa Barbara


At the far end of Plaza Armas was the residence of the fort’s commander or Casa del Castellano. The dungeon below was the cellar where food supplies were kept. A terraced garden now occupies the site.  



Strategically located to overlook the bay and the river, Baluarte de Sta. Barbara was initially built as a wooden platform in 1593. Storage vaults and bomb-proof powder magazines were added in 1599.



A Rizaliana Exhibit featuring the furniture and personal effects of the Rizal family can be viewed from the upper floor of the bulwark. 




The Falsabraga de Sta. Barbara and half-moon shaped Media Naranjan were falls walls which protected the main bulwark in case of heavy bombardment form the river.


During World War II, Fort Santiago was renamed Hu Heiei by the Japanese Government. It became the headquarters of the dreaded Kempeitai or Japanese military police who according to legend imprisoned, tortured, drowned and executed numerous Filipinos in the fort’s notorious dungeons. 



A memorial cross known as the Shrine of Freedom marks the common grave of approximately 600 bodies of guerillas and civilians found inside the powder magazine of Baluarte de Sta. Barbara.



Information source: Fort Santiago brochure


Click here to begin at Plaza Roma.