Story & photos by Gretchen Filart Dublin
In addition to its existing dungeons, promenades and ruins, visitors now have more reasons to visit Fort Santiago as it opened two new historic sites recently—the Paseo Soledad and Plaza Moriones. The sections were redeveloped by the Department of Tourism (DOT), as part of the Intramuros Revival Project spearheaded by Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo that seeks to boost visitor arrivals in the historic walled city to 91 percent.
“We started the project in October by cleaning up the streets, followed by the Christmas Season, when we lighted the giant parol at Plaza Romana. We also held the Christmas bazaar at Postigo Street. Today, we enter another phase of the revival project with the rehabilitation of the historic site, Fort Santiago,” Teo said during the opening ceremony.
Plaza Moriones and Paseo Soledad
Plaza Moriones rests on what was once a sprawling garden and resting area. Visitors previously needed to walk from the entrance all the way to the Fort Santiago gate to see the iconic structure in its unobstructed glory. With the pathway cleared, Plaza Moriones now affords visitors a clear view of the gate from Santa Clara Street, with Frangipani trees at the side and a central fountain that lights up nightly.
Paseo Soledad at the farther end of the fort is a landscaped linear park straddling the banks of Pasig River. A 1714 map by Spanish military engineer Juan de Ciscara shows that this section used to be a passageway for locals boarding rowboats to Binondo and Quiapo. It was also used by Lieutenant Gov. Gen. Simon de Anda in 1762 to escape British soldiers who were seizing the capital.
Accessible via the Postigo Nuestra Señora de Soledad gate, the landscaped promenade offers up-close views of the city. The scene is particularly romantic at night as city lights glimmer against the river.
The opening of these areas are part of a two-phase P30-million redevelopment program funded by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), a DOT arm.
“We redeveloped the grounds to highlight the walls of Fort Santiago. There will be a mechanism for consultation for Phase 2,” Intramuros Administration (IA) and Tieza Chief Operating Officer lawyer Guiller Asido shared. According to him, Phase 2 will include the installation of Closed-circuit television cameras, additional restrooms, installation of underground utility cables, relocation of informal settlers and tree planting. “The expectation is that, when the project ends, 70 percent will be green,” he added.
Fort Santiago received more than 500,000 tourists in 2016. With these developments, Asido said they expect a rise of 30 percent to 40 percent in visitor arrivals this year, or up to 700,000 visitors. To accommodate the visitor influx, Fort Santiago’s hours have been extended and it now operates from 8 to 10 p.m. daily.
Fort Santiago in a glimpse
Many areas within the fort, such as Rajah Soliman and the dungeons, shall be made available for public use this year. The Intramuros Museum, which will feature vital artefacts and collections from Intramuros, is expected to open in July. Asido reassured that, despite the refurbishments, there will be no increase in entrance fees. Adults can still enjoy access to the fort grounds for only P75, and students and children for only P50.
“The importance of Fort Santiago in Intramuros cannot be overemphasized. Long before it was declared a Shrine of Freedom in 1951—in memory of Dr. Jose Rizal and other heroes and martyrs who lost their lives here—this place has had its role in the history of Manila,” Teo said.
Named after Spain’s patron saint, Saint James (Santiago Matamoros or Saint James the Moor-slayer), Fort Santiago is one of the most important historical structures in Manila. Then called Fuerte de Santiago, the citadel was built as a defense fortress in 1571 by Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi.
Its dungeons served as a prison for criminals in the Spanish colonial period and Jose Rizal prior to his execution in 1896.
Visitors can retrace Rizal’s steps on the day of his execution through bronze footprints embedded on the ground, from his cell to the execution block. On site is a replica of Rizal’s ancestral house, as well as his memorabilia in the Rizal Shrine.
Today, Fort Santiago remains as one of the prominent landmarks in the walled city of Intramuros. Its airy promenades are often used into a venue for weddings and other special events.
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