Sugar Sun series location #10: Fort Santiago

sugar-series-map-manila-with-port

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. This was where the Spanish Army was headquartered, and it will be the Americans’ choice, too. Almost 240 years later, my heroine Georgina Potter had no choice but to search for her missing soldier brother at Fort Santiago. (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?