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With the establishment of the civil government in 1901 the use of the place as a fortress was forever abandoned, and it serves now as the headquarters for the Philippines Division of the United States army. The building on top of the wall is one of the most pleasant and comfortable office buildings in Manila, and serves as headquarters for the commanding general.
"La Real Fuerza de Santiago,"(the royal stronghold), as Governor Dasmariñas left it, consisted of a straight grey front projecting into the river mouth. An open gun platform above was supported by arches and called the :"Battery de Santa Barbara," in honor of the patron saint of all good artillerists. A lower tier of fire was afforded through embrasures in the casements formed by the arches. Simple curtain walls without interior buttresses, extended the flanks to a fourth front facing the city.
The casements were afterward filled in and the embrasures closed and the curtain wall facing the city was changed to a bastion. The detailed description of these early construction were carried to England by the British after their conquest of Manila and some of the maps and papers are now in the British Museum in London. In the report of Governor Tamon sent to Spain in 1739 occurs a detailed description of the fort which is of interest to military men, but unintelligible to the uninitiated. Suffice it to say that the fort itself in its present form has stood practically unchanged for about three hundred years, and is getting old enough to command the respect due any construction that through all the changing vicissitudes of three centuries has stood unchanged.
The pay-roll of the garrison before the British invasion throws a curious light on living condition in the old days. The "warden" must have been quite an aristocrat, as he received a monthly salary of 66 pesos. The lieutenants were paid 15 pesos, the servants three pesos, the Spanish soldiers two pesos, and the native soldiers were rewarded for their devotion but a regular payment of a peso and a quarter every month. The total annual pay of the whole garrison amounted to 4, 600 pesos. This might furnish a hint on economy to the war department, but it is not likely to serve as a precedent.
Many strange things have happened under the shadow of the old fort, and there are old Spaniards living in Manila who shake their heads wisely and intimate that if they were to tell all they knew, it would be an astonishing story indeed. How much they really know is a question, but certain it is that the natives have a great fear of the old place. The records of the church historians associate the fort with several remarkable visitations of the shades of saints who had been buried and were supposed to remain so, but as a special favor to the city, failed to "stay put."
There are all sorts of stories floating about the old fort. So far as the walls are concerned, there is some foundation for the stories. There are store rooms and magazines, and the outer curtains are connected with the main walls in some cases by underground passages, or were, before these tunnels were destroyed. The filling of the old moat closed them, probably forever. When the wall at the end of Calle Aduana was removed, the inner chamber was found filled with human skeletons.
There were, however, underground passages and deep-built cells in the fort itself. When the Americans took charge of the place there was no opening in the wall where the large stairway is now located on the river face, but from the large room now used as a magazine there was a circular well just under the new stairway. This well was entered by means of a series of winding stone steps, and led down to a passage considerably below the level of the water in the river. This lower passage led back from the river and was lined on each side by cells which could be closed from the front and which were so low that it was impossible to stand them. There was also a movable gate by which the water could be admitted from the river, and all the evidence pointed to the use of those cells for purposes of "unintentional" executions of persons whom it would be expedient to have out of the way without open trial or public capital punishment. The natives have a terror of this old place and have no desire to see anything below the surface of the walls. When the present improvements were made in the fort the old well was closed up, and if there is any way of reaching it at the present time it is unknown to the engineers who have made the changes of recent years.
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