After our lunch at Toho Restaurant in Chinatown, Grace, Jandy, Cheska, Dad, Mom and I drove to Intramuros and parked the car at Fort Santiago, just across the Manila Cathedral. Being a weekend, there was a steady stream of visitors, including foreigners, all strolling leisurely. With Jandy, I planned to revisit the fort, our last visit being way back March 1, 1993 when Jandy was just 6 years old.
Upon entry, we were ushered into the well-kept Plaza Moriones, a public promenade that was fenced off by the Spanish military in 1864. It now has beautiful landscaping, a flagpole and a fountain. To the right is the Almacenes Reales (Royal Warehouses) where goods brought in by the galleons were stored. We passed by the Administrative Office, a refreshment kiosk and the picnic area (at its back is the archaeological excavation of the Artilleria de Maestranza, the foundry which cast cannons and ammunition during Spanish times) before reaching the moat and, across it, the fort’s main gate.
The original gate was built in 1714, destroyed during the American liberation and was restored in 1983. Its stone carvings were done by Zacarias Salonga. Above the gate is a wooden equestrian relief carving of St. James (Santiago Matamoro, after whom the fort was named) slaying the Moors done by Wilfredo Layug (a distant relative?). Guarding its flanks are Baluarte de San Miguel (Manila Bay side) on the left and the Medio Baluarte de San Francisco (Pasig River side) on the right.
Immediately upon entry is Plaza Armas, the fort’s main square and probable site of the palisaded fort of Rajah Sulayman. On its left are the ruins of the Spanish Barracks and the Rizal Shrine and on its right is the renowned Dulaang Rajah Sulayman, an outdoor theater built on the site of the old barracks. It has a 3-dimensional stage built amidst the fort’s adobe walls. Next to the theater is the Postigo de la Nuestra Senora del Soledad (Postern of Our Lady of Solitude) used as a passage to the Pasig River.
Fronting Plaza Armas, on the right, is the Casa del Castellano, site of the fort commander’s residence and now occupied by a terraced garden. Below it is a dungeon/cellar where food supplies were kept. On the left, is the Baluarte de Sta. Barbara, strategically located to overlook both the Pasig River and Manila Bay. Started as a wooden platform in 1593, storage vaults and the bombproof powder magazine where added in 1599.
Almost destroyed in the fighting of 1945, Sta. Barbara has since been landscaped and now contains a memorial park known as the Shrine of Freedom. Its Memorial Cross marks the common grave of 600 World War II victims found there. On its Pasig River side are the Falsabragas de Sta. Barbara and Media Naranja, 2 false walls which protected the main bulwark when heavily bombarded from the river.
On our way out we noticed the brass shoeprints (many of them now missing) installed during the 1998 centennial to trace the path of National Hero Jose Rizal when he walked from his cell to Bagumbayan for his execution (7:03 A.M., December 30). After exiting the fort’s gate, it was back to Plaza Moriones and some more time travel. Past the Wall of Martyrs, the American Barracks Ruins and the picnic grounds is the Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier. Built by Gov.-Gen. Sabiniano Manrique de Lara, it protected the old postern gate when the first Governor’s Palace was located inside the fort until 1654. It kept military supplies. Its Reducto de San Francisco Javier, added in 1773, now houses the Shrine of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
Restored in 1985, the Baluartillo’s 10 chambers now house the Intramuros Visitors Center (IVC). It consists of an information center, a photo gallery exhibiting the Walled City’s past and present, an audio-visual chamber (where “The Sanctuary of the Filipino Spirit”, an 18-min. video-documentary on Intramuros, is shown), a restaurant/coffee shop and souvenir shops.