Fabulous Philippines > Interesting Manila > Fort Santiago (1)

Fort Santiago
(Part 1)

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In all the Philippine Islands the most interesting object is Fort Santiago. When back in the twelfth century the first fearless mariner discovered a chain of islands across the China sea inhabited by "Saracens," he reported a peaceful people; but the next account of them tells of Sulu pirates and savages who lived by fighting and plunder.

When Magellanes again discovered the Islands in 1521 he found a people who knew how to fight, and lost his life at their hands. Urdaneta had difficulty in maintaining peace with the inhabitants of Cebu, and report came to him of a large island called Luzon with a great bay and a sturdy people. When the expedition, under command of Captain Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo, arrived in the year 1570 opposite the town of Manila, a rude but strong wooden palisade was already erected by the natives at the south side of the mouth of the Pasig, and there were twelve bronze cannon, of native manufacture, mounted for the defence of the place. All of this furnishes good ground for belief that Fort Santiago has a history that may be traced back past the dawn of modern Philippine history to the time when the first group of savages were gathered by the Pasig under the leadership of a Mohammedan rajah, and built a log enclosure for defence against other savages about them. The mouth of the river has always been the strategic position of the whole country, and on that same spot Fort Santiago stands to-day. What the tower of London is to England, the Vatican to Rome, ,and Bunker Hill monument to the United States, Fort Santiago is to the Philippine Islands. Very few of the thousands who pass before it every day stop to give a thought to the fascinating history of the heavy walls over which float to-day the stars and stripes.

The story of this monument will someday be written by a sympathetic heart and a romantic pen, and then we will realize what a historical treasure it is that stands so little noticed by the curio hunters who come and go, while the old fort is heedless of their passing

Accounts differ a little as to just what happened when Salcedo's expedition sailed into the bay of Manila, but Fr, Juan de la Concepción says that Rajah Soliman rallied his forces and and manned his twelve bronze guns in the palisade and made a goodly defence of the place, but the besiegers were victorious and set fire to the city and afterwards captured Cavite. Another account states that surrender was made without opposition. The cannon were captured and taken to Panay, a treaty was made and signed in blood by Salcedo and Rajah Soliman, and the expedition returned to Cebu

When Legaspi heard of the fine location and great bay of Manila, he at once made preparations to shift his headquarters, and, in April, 1571, he took the city, and found. it empty, as the inhabitants had fled after setting fire to their houses. Legaspi soon placated the rajah, and in June of the same year founded the city of Manila, and the written history of Fort Santiago began. The old palisade was once strengthened, and the natives were commanded to build a wall about the place, to erect a good house for the governor and one hundred and fifty houses for the Spaniards. All this they promised readily enough, but were attacked with "philippinitis" and forgot to do the work. This made it necessary for the Spaniards to work on the fort themselves. The wooden walls were reinforced with earth; but the new governor, Santiago de Vera, seeing the need for more stable protection than a wall of stakes, cleared the ground and laid the first stones of the fort that bears his name. These stones are still in the wall, though difficult to identify at the present time.

When Governor Dasmariñas arrived in 1590 he brought instructions from the king of Spain to fortify the place so as to insure it against all attacks by land or sea and at once set about the work. His first construction was that of the circular wall still standing in front of the parapet of the fort itself. It is in the lower level, and is washed by the waters of the Pasig. Since the American occupation a road has been built by which the visitor may enter the fort from the Malecon drive. The entrance and the stairway, leading from the lower portico to the new building on top of the wall, are also of very recent construction. When Dewey anchored off the breakwater, and General Merritt entered the inner quadrangle to sign the articles of capitulation, there was no building of any sort on the wall, but it was fortified with the best artillery the city afforded.

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