Fort Santiago

The earliest fortification seen in this area was a wooden kuta, or a palisade of stout timbers, reinforced with sand and earth and made by the original settlers, led by Rajah Sulayman, who was believed to have been descended from Brunei royalty. It was defended by lantaka, or narrow bronze cannons typical of precolonial Southeast Asian communities, and mostly used to defend against pirates.

An undated photo of Fort Santiago. (Photo provided by Intramuros Administration)

The cannons were made by Panday Pira, a blacksmith from Pampanga, believed to be the first Filipino cannon-maker. He fled to Pampanga following the Spanish invasion of Manila, though he was soon commissioned by the Spaniards to make cannons for them as there were no smiths from Spain at the time. So integral was Panday Pira to the early fortification of Intramuros that when he died, the Spaniards had to petition the King of Spain for a blacksmith to take his place.

Fort Santiago was the primary fortification of Manila and evolved to incorporate new theories in military engineering as time went on. As there were no stone masons in Manila in the beginning of the Spanish occupation, the first Governor-General of Manila, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, merely rebuilt and maintained the wooden palisade up until the invasion by the pirate Limahong in 1574 made stronger fortifications necessary.

It wasn’t until the Jesuit priest Antonio Sedeno arrived in the country, that the stone fortification of Intramuros began in earnest. It is said that he and Bishop Domingo de Salazar discovered the volcanic tuff called adobe when they were exploring in Guadalupe. The two priests are largely credited for introducing stone into the construction of Intramuros.

During the Spanish period, no Filipino (then called indio by the Spaniards) was allowed in Fort Santiago unless he were a prisoner doomed to be executed. The other indios allowed within the walls were laborers and craftsmen, who were led out at nightfall, with the gates securely fastened behind them. The national hero, Jose Rizal, was imprisoned in Fort Santiago before his execution in Bagumbayan and a shrine and museum dedicated to his life and achievements can be found within.

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