Fort Santiago, standing above the river, is a fortress within the fortress. Once the headquarters of the colonial authorities, it served also as a formidable prison. The ruins of the fort have been skillfully restored, and the inner courtyard is now used for official receptions and theatrical and other performances.
Fort Santiago, at the northwest corner of Intramuros, above the river Pasig, is named after the first Spanish governor, Santiago de Vera, who commissioned a Jesuit architect named Antonio Sedeo to build it in place of the old timber fort of Rajah Sulayman Mura. Building was built in 1571 and served as fortress against marauding Chinese pirates in 1574, but the fort was destroyed by fire in 1579. It was rebuilt by Santiago de Vera’s successor Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, the architect being Leonardo Iturriano, and the new fort, built of volcanic tufa, was progressively enlarged until the early 18th century. It was attacked by the Dutch in 1646, and also, more persistently, by the British, who captured it in 1762. It was the scene of a mutiny by Filipino soldiers in 1843. It was taken by the Americans in 1898.
Fort Santiago also served as a prison. Jose Rizal’s cell is shown to the visitors, in which he was confined from 3 November 1896 until his execution on 30 December. During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) many members of the Resistance were imprisoned and tortured in the fort.
The San Lorenzo Bastion commanded the bay with 58 cannon manufactured by Krupp in Germany. There is now a small museum containing the anchors of Spanish galleons. To the North is the Shrine of Freedom, a park commemorating Rizal and other heroes of the Philippines. To the South, on a site formerly occupied by barracks, is an open-air theatre which bears the name of Rajah Sulayman (1967). Below the ramparts can be seen old state carriages used by governors and presidents.