I have previously written of the significance of the national hero Jose Rizal. On Saturday we visited the shrine of the great man at Fort Santiago.
Fort Santiago, which guards the entrance of the Pasig River, lies at the northwestern apex of Intramuros (literally ‘within the walls’), the fortified city established by Legazpi, the first Spanish governor of the Philippines. The entry in the Lonely Planet guide describes the city thus (p.81):
From its founding in 1571, Intramuros was the exclusive preserve of the Spanish ruling classes. Within its massive walls were imposing government buildings, stately homes, churches, convents, monasteries, schools, hospitals and cobbled plazas. The native population was settled in surrounding areas such as Paco and Binondo, while the ‘troublesome’ Chinese were kept under permanent supervision in a ghetto called the Parian. Fortified with bastions (baluarte), the wall enclosed an area of some 64 hectares. Gates (puerta) with drawbridges provided access to and from the outside world.
Intramuros was heavily damaged during World War 2, to the extent that only the walls and a few buildings survived. One of the survivors was the Church of San Agustin (built 1597-1606), the oldest church in the Philippines. (We didn’t visit the church on this occasion, having been there previously.) Some of the old houses have been rebuilt, some remain in a state of ruin,.and many modern buildings have been constructed on the old street pattern; some more, some less architecturally sensitive to the historical nature of the walled city. To add to the atmosphere calesas (two wheeled horse drawn buggies) still ply the streets alongside more modern forms of public transport.
Although we have been to Intramuros on a number of occasions, it was over twenty years since Mary Ann and I had visited Fort Santiago and the first time Sophia, Nat and Dan had visited.
One approaches Fort Santiago through Fort Santiago Park, which is very well laid out and maintained. Some of the old buildings remain on each side of the park, including the Almacenes Reales (Royal Warehouses), built in 1591 from stone and narrow tile-like bricks and which have been (I thought) very sensitively restored. A moat divides the park from the fort itself, spanned by an arched stone bridge, leading to the single gatehouse. Above the entrance is the royal crest of Spain, surmounted by a mounted figure, brandishing a sword while his defeated enemies lie prone under his horse’s feet, which I’m guessing is King Philip II, after whom the Philippines are named. This has obviously been much restored, although some of the original stone carvings remain.
Most of the structures within Fort Santiago have been destroyed, and today it is an open courtyard with, at its centre, a statue of Jose Rizal. Buildings in various stages of decay line the ancient walls; most significantly the remains of the barracks built in 1593 (and ruined in the fighting of World War 2.) This was the place where Jose Rizal was imprisoned in a former pantry and from where he was led to his place of execution in Luneta. Next to the ruined barrack block is a modern building in which there is a reproduction of his prison cell and various memorabilia associated with the national hero. It is this building that is designated the Rizal Shrine.
In the footsteps of Jose Rizal
The interior of the Rizal Shrine was completely revamped in the 90s as part of the centenary commemorations of Rizal’s death and certainly is different from my memory of my previous visit. The displays are well presented, though not surprisingly leaning towards the reverential (Dan was told to remove his cap as we went in.)
Among Rizal’s personal effects on display are the coat he wore on his travels in Europe, his fencing swords (he was apparently an excellent swordsman) and his travelling medical kit (Rizal practised as a doctor of medicine). A more macabre exhibit is a bullet marked vertebra, which was taken from his grave.
The exit from the exhibition is at first floor (US/Filipino: second floor) level and takes you directly onto the rampart walls of the fort. Below here are the notorious dungeons which filled with water with the rising tide. Descending back towards ground level, I was moved by a simple white cross that marks the final resting place of some 600 Filipinos whose bodies were found inside a dungeon during the liberation of Manila in February 1945.
As we walked back toward the main entrance of the fort, we followed a trail of brass footprints set into the ground. These mark the final journey of Jose Rizal on his way to execution. Thus as we left Fort Santiago we found ourselves quite literally walking in Rizal’s footsteps.