Sugar Sun series location #10: Fort Santiago

Manila map 1902 for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Georgina looked up at Fort Santiago, the stone embodiment of Spanish paranoia that capped the fortress city of old Manila. A bas-relief of Saint James the Moor-Slayer stood guard over the gate. Not the most observant Catholic, Georgie liked the thought of Iberian explorers braving the long, lonely journey across the Pacific only to find themselves back where they started—fighting Muslims. Judging by the number of churches they left behind, conversion had been a spiritual test they had met with gusto.

— Under the Sugar Sun

Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Saint James the Moorslayer, a close up of the main gate to Fort Santiago. Creative Commons photo by John Tewell.

The defensive embankment of Fort Santiago (“Saint James”) has been around since shortly after the Spanish took Manila from its indigenous Muslim rajahs in 1571—hence, the tone-deaf dedication to Saint James the Moorslayer. (The Spanish converted or chased out most Muslims in the archipelago, but not all. Still today, 5% of Filipinos are Muslim, mostly in southern Mindanao and the surrounding islands.)

Intramuros Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A bird’s eye view of Manila by Johannes Vingboons, painted in 1665.

When a Dutch traveler painted Manila in 1665, you can already see the walled city of Intramuros, capped by Fort Santiago at the mouth of the Pasig river. That was where the Spanish Army was headquartered. Almost 240 years later, my heroine Georgina Potter had no choice but to search for her missing soldier brother at Fort Santiago because that was where the US Army was headquartered, too. (The relatively brief US stewardship may be the only time this citadel was not a fortress of Catholicism.)

Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Raising the American flag over Fort Santiago, Manila, on the evening of August 13, 1898. From Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Vol. II, published by Harper and Brothers in 1899.

Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Manila grew into a thriving commercial and cosmopolitan center. Every vessel that entered the city—from local casco to Manila galleon—had to sail past the intimidating cannons of Fort Santiago to reach the docks on the north side of the river.

Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Walls of the old city of Manila. Fort Santiago with gorletas anchored in front of it, 1898. Photo from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

Importantly for Filipino history, Fort Santiago is also where national hero José Rizal spent his last days. In his spare time, this polyglot ophthalmologist authored the seminal work of Philippine fiction, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not). The Noli blasts the corruption of the Spanish friars who ruled the countryside and reveals how young, intelligent Filipinos (like Rizal) were denied human and political rights. Since Rizal was executed for writing a work of fiction, the Spanish ironically proved his claims true.

Rizal Shrine Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
National hero José Rizal was held by the Spanish at Fort Santiago until his execution at the Luneta in 1896, sparking the Philippine Revolution. Images from left to right: a common portrait of Rizal; the statue of Rizal in Fort Santiago, as photographed by Frisno Böstrom; and the entrance to Rizal’s prison, as photographed by Barbara Jane.

Rizal may have had revolutionary sentiments—how revolutionary is hotly debated—but his fate was ultimately sealed by priests, not politicians. Of course, these friars thought they were the government of the Philippines, so a challenge to them was a challenge to Spanish rule. Where did the friars put him? In their fortress of Saint James, of course. Rizal wrote these last words in his jailhouse poem, later named Mi Ultimo Adios:

My idolized Country, for whom I most gravely pine,
Dear Philippines, to my last goodbye, oh, harken
There I leave all: my parents, loves of mine,
I’ll go where there are no slaves, tyrants or hangmen
Where faith does not kill and where God alone does reign.

Rizal Shrine Fort Santiago Manila location in steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Jose Rizal wrote his farewell letter, Mi Ultimo Adios, while being held in a prison cell in Fort Santiago. Now the cell has been converted as the Rizal Shrine where a life-size diorama of his last hours is depicted before his execution. Creative Commons photo by Christian Sangoyo.

Scratch a stone in Manila and you’ll dig up all kinds of interesting history, right? By the way, the Creative Commons image at the top of this post is by Fechi Fajardo. If you’re wondering what that net is, it’s a practice driving range for the Intramuros golf course! Oh, what would Rizal think?

Sugar Sun series location #5: Hotel Oriente

In Hotel Oriente the establishment itself is a character—but decidedly not a romantic one. The American guests cannot figure out how to sleep in the beds, the manager runs out of eggs at breakfast, and water pours down the walls when an upstairs couple gets too frisky in the bathtub. I embellished, but I was not that far off the mark: the first two happened at the real Hotel Oriente, and the last one took place at the Army hotel my father-in-law managed during the Vietnam War.

US Library of Congress photo of the Insular Cigar Factory (foreground) and the Hotel Oriente (background) on the Plaza Calderon de la Barca. Public domain image scanned and uploaded by Scott Slaten.

When the real Oriente opened its doors in 1889, it was the place to be. José Rizal himself stayed in Room 22, facing Binondo Church. Even the food was good. According to a contemporary journalist, a 21-year old woman from Maine: “Its chicken, chile peppers, and rice are a revelation…[and] it dispenses a curry equal to the finest productions of Bombay or Calcutta.” (Are you thinking, “What does a 19th century Mainer know about curry?” Me, too.)

The 83 rooms were always the hotel’s best feature. Another American account said: “I expected to find a regular hole, but really I have a nice large room, hard wood floor, electric lights, etc, etc. The bathrooms are all tiled, sanitary plumbing, fine large court, [and] tropical plants.” By the way, those plants entangle both Georgina and Della in their turn.

The Hotel Oriente rooms as photographed for a contemporary travelogue. Read more about the Oriente’s history at Lou Gopal’s fantastic website.

Of course, if you are getting the picture that Americans were difficult to please, you are right. Moreover, they never recognized their own provinciality. They especially had trouble with the mattress-less bed. The perforated cane bottom allowed the contraption to breathe, logically trading coolness for softness, but one guest had so much trouble figuring the thing out that he slept in the wicker chair by the window instead.

Still, the Americans thought that they improved every place they went, and the Oriente was no different:

What an establishment! How shiftless and dirty, and how it smells! The building itself is well enough, being large and airy, but it is conducted on the Spanish plan of dirt and sloth, by a manager whose watchword has evidently been mañana for all the years of his life. Now, he is forced to deal with a people who insist that all things be done, completed, finished, the day before yesterday. The result to his dead brain is almost insanity. He looks at us in a dazed manner and moans out that he has no rooms, muttering constantly the one all-expressive word: Americanos, Americanos.

I might have been muttering the same thing, too, and I am an Americano. While the Yankees had only been in the imperialism biz a few years, they had already adopted all the ennui and petulance of experienced Great Gamers.

An advertisement from the 1901 Commercial Directory of Manila and a close up of an 1898 map of Manila and suburbs.

One Minnesotan did try to whip the hotel into shape: West Smith, a volunteer who had fought the Spanish in the Battle of Manila in August 1898. He took over the Oriente in late 1902 and continued to manage it until it was transformed into the Philippine Constabulary headquarters in 1904. After that he worked for The Great Eastern Life Assurance Company. He met his wife, Stella Margaret Case, in Manila while she was visiting her sister, a stenographer for the Insular Ice Plant. If you see similarities in names here—Moss North from West Smith, and Della from Stella—you would not be wrong. It’s how I do.

And, speaking of names, the hotel itself had many. Hotel de Oriente was the name plastered across the exterior moulding, but all of the following were used: Hotel d’Oriente, Hotel el Oriente, Hotel Oriente, Hotel Orient, and then every single one of these in reverse order. I keep with the American tradition by using two names interchangeably as if I don’t know the difference. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Menu excerpts from the Hotel Oriente, 1900-1902. The top three are each relevant to a different scene from either Hotel Oriente or Under the Sugar Sun.