Old Spanish Forts and Fortifications in the Philippines:

Fort Alfonso de Jolo, Fort Xavier de Iligan, Fort San Felipe de Cavite, Fort San Pedro de Cebu, and Fort Pilar de Zamboanga during the Spanish era

Manila Fortifications during the Spanish era

Fort San Pedro de Cebu

Fort San Pedro de Cebu # 2

Fort Pilar de Zamboanga

Fort Pilar de Zamboanga # 2

Fort Pilar de Zamboanga # 3

Fort El Triunfo de Misamis Occidental

Intramuros de Manila

Fort Santiago de Manila

                         Article # 1: "Fortifications"

                                    By Corazon S. Alvina 

Even before the Spaniards arrived and set up forts to protect their new-found colony (and themselves), the people in the archipelago, specially those in Mindanao, built and maintained kuta (or cotta), fortified positions. Cotabato, for instance, was an early stone fort, Kuta Bato. Some local forts were of wood. The old Maynila fortification that the Spanish adelantado Legazpi and his troops attacked in 1570 was described as "made of palm tree logs" and mounds of earth. The Spaniards brought with them the Middle Age European scheme of stone-and-masonry forts. Spanish colonial Philippine forts were mostly of adobe or tuff, or other types of stone. These were designed and built to effectively repulse incursions by enemies, which included in their number, some natives or locals.

The oldest known Spanish colonial fortification is that of San Pedro in Cebu. Both a garrison and a fort, its construction was ordered by Legaspi, soon after he landed there. In place of the old Maynila palm-tree log-and-mud kuta that the Spaniards demolished, Legaspi, again, had build Fort Santiago, the main point of Intramuros' defense, supported by a moat, and a system of baluartes and baluartillos along the walls.

In Cavite, across the bay of Manila from the settlement of Maynila, was "the castle and royal fortress of San Phelipe (Neri)", with bastiones, about four of them, each of which could mount six cannons.The seaward side had a battery of 20 cannons.

In Cagayan, up north, was in the late 18th century a garrison and a fort in Tuao. The complex was of stone, and was manned with "sufficient Spanish and Pampango soldiers..." with arms and military supplies. The Spaniards were known to have capitalized, even encouraged, the islanders's regionalistic tendencies, and pitted the locals from one region with those of another, divide and conquer tactics indeed that long held back the natives from organizing a united force.

There was a stone fort called Sta Isabel de Paragua on a knoll in the Calamianes. It was "at a distance of less than a musket shot from the seashore on one side, and surrounded by the same sea on the others. It overlooked Taytay town and Malampaya sound.

In Cuyo was another stone fort, erected under the directions of the Augustinians. It was near the beach used for fighting off "Moro pirates." In Culion too was a stone fort, built along the lines of the one in Cuyo but on a smaller scale.

The Virgin Mary was supposed to have appeared in the place where stand the garrison and fort of Zamboango. Now called simply Fort Pilar, the fort of Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza, a quadrilateral stone structure, was constructed upon orders of Governor General Fernando Bustamante in 1712.

San Francisco Xavier was Iligan's fort. It was star-shaped and made of stone. Another Mindanao fortification was San Josef in Tandag. Of stone, this triangular fort was built "to prevent the Moros from passing through and to contain the Bisayas, a people who have been warlike," effectively denying natives access to their land.

                  ARTICLE # 2:  "A system of fortifications"
                                    by Bambi Harper

IF you haven’t got a copy of Fr. Rene Javellana’s ‘‘Fortress of Empire’’ (1997) or haven’t read the book, drop by a major library to school yourself in one of the most intriguing subjects of our architectural history.

Photographs by Lori Tan evoke the romance of loneliness and a time long past that has little to do with reality but is a visual pleasure anyway.

Most of us are familiar with Fort Santiago in Manila, Fort San Pedro in Cebu and Fort Del Pilar in Zamboanga, but there were dozens of others built along lonely coastlines from north to south of the archipelago.

But why should you bother with crumbling heaps of stones that do not affect your life? Well, partly because these form part of your heritage, like it or not.

The practical side is that, restored and preserved, they could form tourist attractions and also be submitted to Unesco as part of World Heritage so that the Philippines could be known for things other than money laundering, drugs, child prostitution and eight million overseas workers fleeing poverty.

I have selected the following from Vicente Barrantes’ list (1878), which includes a description of the fort and some information about the place where it was located rather than Father Javellana’s because the latter is too comprehensive and deserves more space.

I would also like to thank Father Javellana for his help with the technical terms in the article.

Santisimo Nombre de Jesus was the cabecera of Cebu that was also an episcopal seat.

Its alcalde mayor served not only as governor but also as chief justice, general of the Armada of the Pintados and chatelaine of the fort, with power to appoint ordinary mayors, justices, scribes, property managers and bailiffs.

If Cebuanos were unable to harvest rice due to the aridness of the soil, they augmented what they had with millet, which they called borona. Those with means exchanged cotton, tobacco or other products in adjacent isles.

They produced salt, a lot of lampote (a kind of cotton fabric), medriñaques (calico-like cloth made from abaca), cotton stockings and other textiles. Other products included wax, civet, abaca, garlic and onions.

Gold and pearls were found in Talibong on the coast of Bohol, which was under the jurisdiction of Cebu.

In the vicinity of Cebu was the Fort of San Pedro, constructed of lime and stones (cal y canto) and located on the edge of the sea.

Triangular in shape with three bulwarks of erect flanks, it was guarded on the entrance by an exterior stockade and a palisade in the form of a false front (falsa braga).

Within were 13 bronze cannons, long hand guns of iron, muskets, nautical whipstaffs, 250 arquebuses, 1826 bullets for the artillery, 14,055 lead ammunition for the muskets and so on.

Under the jurisdiction of the bishopric of Cebu was the island of Panay, which was called the Sicily of the Philippines because of its beauty, triangular shape and abundant produce.

It was divided into Capiz and Oton, the latter serving as the capital and the site of the Fortress of San Pedro. In front of the fort a short distance away was the island of Guimaras (Himalos) which though small had plenty of livestock, fruit, pastures and spring waters.

Of equal fertility was the whole of Panay because of the many rivers that fertilized the soil. Rice harvests were plentiful as well as timber, oil, wax, abaca, tar, cotton and various textiles.

Panay had a fort in Oton of masonry with a platform partly on land and partly in the water. It was quadrilateral in shape and had four bulwarks, one with an erect flank and three protruding orillons.

Its entrance was on the northern part and it was defended by a square palisade with another door on the eastern side.

On the outside in front of the northern curtain extended a repaired edifice of masonry facing the sea and following the contour of the cove and ending on a bridge on the opposite bank.

The fort served as a defense against the Mindanaons and Joloanos who passed through the area on their raiding ventures.

In Capiz the fort formed an isosceles triangle attached to the side of the church. The remaining sides were flanked by a terron located on the western angle of the fort.

The parish priest and the inhabitants of Romblon built their own fort of lime and stone. It consisted simply of an upright strip with a platform facing the sea.

The strip faced the west and was flanked by two semi-bulwarks situated on its extremes and a square in its middle that protected and covered the entrance.

In the olden days, the site was the hideout of Moros from where they would sail to raid the entire region, but the fort stopped the depredations.

The Calamianes consisted of three islands. Busuanga was the grand Calamian and its capital was Taytay. There were innumerable islands, mostly unpopulated but some inhabited by Camucones and other ‘‘infidels’’ related to Borneans who together with the inhabitants of Paragua, Mindanao and Jolo continued to harass the Christianized islanders.

The products were wax, gold, rice and vegetables. There were pigs, extraordinary birds, including turkey, and in its dense forests was found the wild boar.

Fuerza de Sta. Isabel was found in the northern part of the great island of La Paragua in the most interior area of the cove. It was a hill of stone elevated some 20 feet, with a flat crown over a sandbank that during high tide was isolated.

Its form was an irregular square. It consisted of a curtain of stone and lime with two collateral bulwarks. In the middle was the door. The road that led to the town was 650 feet long and at its end was a high mountain that dominated the terrain.

The Moros in 1734 placed some artillery atop the mountain and caused much damage to the town.

ON THE ISLAND of Cuyo was a fort constructed on the beach within range from the sea of artillery fire. It was a fortification of masonry, square in shape with three bulwarks and orillons.

On the eastern side was the entrance and from the angles of the two collateral bulwarks ran a strip that served as an ante-wall for the curtain.

The fort enclosed a church, convent, quarters for troops and some stores for the natives seeking refuge in times of invasion.

Invasions had been so frequent lately that the inhabitants with the help of the descalced Augustinians constructed the fort without any financial help from Manila and they maintained it by themselves, including equipment and ammunition. Only in cases of extreme necessity did Manila send gunpowder.

On the island of Linacupan, beside the town and on the edge of the sea, rose a rock whose ascent was difficult with only one access to the top.

A plain extended over it and there a parapet of masonry had been constructed, surrounded and guarded by artillery. It dominated the town and defended its entrance so well that it couldn’t be attacked without the attacker being attacked in return.

Within was a church, quarters for the troops, some houses of refuge for the inhabitants and a natural spring that provided sweet and potable water.

The inhabitants and the priests, without any aid from the central government, supported the fort. It was only during the administration of Gov. Fernando Valdes-Tamon (1739) that four cannons, the battery and gunpowder were sent for its defense.

On the island of Lutaya was the fort of San Juan Bautista, located on the beach within rifle shot from the sea. It was square, of masonry with four bulwarks and orillons.

The entrance was in the middle and covered by a rectangular piece of masonry measuring 34 feet. It enclosed a church, convent and some houses.

The island was once the encomienda of Antonio de Rojas, but it was now under the care of the Augustinians.

Construction of a fort in Culion begun in 1735 and took more than 25 years to finish. Built of lime and stone, it defended the plain where the town was situated. It was square, with four bastions and orillons with curtains measuring 90 feet.

The entrance was situated on the eastern side and guarded by a rectangular piece of masonry. Like the forts earlier mentioned, its maintenance owed nothing to the government.

Leyte and Samar were two islands that were once considered a single unit. The one on the eastern part was called Ibabao, which today is known as Samar. Between the two islands is the strait of San Francisco where Miguel Lopez de Legaspi’s galleons first passed.

Between Samar and Luzon is the strait called San Bernardino. All the towns on both islands are on the coasts. Leyte’s jurisdiction includes Capul, Maripipi and Panamao, renowned for the sulfur from its mines.

Samar and Leyte were covered with tall and dense forests whose lumber was preferred for the construction of galleons and were crisscrossed by mighty rivers. On the southern part of Leyte was a place called Tandaya, in honor of the datu who in 1543 welcomed Ruy Lopez de Villalobos.

In the past, these islands had been preyed upon severely by the Moros, Mindanaos and Joloanos and because of this, they were depopulated.

Despite its mountainous topography, its fertile plains produced abundant rice and wax. Abaca and civet was obtained from its mountains. There was a lot of coconut oil and amber that was washed up on its shores. Like their neighbors in Negros, the inhabitants also used to paint their bodies.

Negros was once called Buglas, after the river of the same name. It was so near Cebu that in some places it was only a league away. In the interior, Negritos and other ‘‘infidels’’ populated the dense mountains.

The plains were so fertile that they provided rice to the surrounding islands. There was an abundance of gamoto (Cabo Negro) that made very good rope, cacao and other fruits. Some pearls were found in its waters.

Caraga, on the island of Mindanao, was originally called Cesarea in 1543 after Carlos V. The province extended from Caraga on the north until Surigao to Hingoo to Cabo San Agustin to the famous cove of Agalooc where Corralat surrendered to Valdes-Tamon.

There was a great quantity of gold especially in the Butuan River as well as a lot of wax. Its cocoa was special in size, substance and abundance. There was also cinnamon and fruits.

The fort in Tandag, situated on the edge of the sea, was called San Jose. It was triangular in shape, with two uneven bastions and a semi-bulwark of masonry.

The entrance was on the western side with a palisade and enclosure atop. Within was the garrison, quarters, storehouse for gunpowder and provisions.

Cateel had a square redoubt known as San Francisco measuring 27 feet on each side with a platform surrounded by a moat measuring six feet.

Another redoubt or fortaleza called San Juan Bautista was situated south of Butuan in Linao, although this one was a wooden palisade with a platform with a moat measuring two meters around it.

The fort that once had a command of Pangil Bay is now obscured by a wharf, a terminal, a make-shift market and an innumerable number of tricycles.

Even at 6 in the morning, the air is cloudy with poisoned exhaust fumes from diesel engines that you can barely make out the outline of the fort now in the hands of the military.

Completed in 1756 under the supervision of Father Ducos, it was quadrilateral in shape with bastions in every corner. A fleet was permanently assigned to it under Pedro Tamparong of Iligan and Tomas Cabiling.

The Iranuns who had earlier wreaked havoc on Misamis and the rest of the area were contained effectively.

The Book "Fortress of Empire" by Rene Javellana, S. J. discusses the string of fortifications built throughout the Philippine archipelago during the Spanish era, not bypassing even tiny remote islands. Over the next 300 years these forts served as their defense net - protecting themselves and their emerging settlements from perceived enemies.

Fortress of Empire, Rene Javellana, S. J. 
1997, 234 pages, 11" x 8.5", Bookmark Press.

Article # 1 from: http://www.cybertambayan.com/issue/kultura/archives/fortifications.html

 Article # 2 from: http://www.inq7.net/opi/2001/sep/08/opi_blharper-1.htm 
             and:  http://www.inq7.net/opi/2001/sep/11/opi_blharper-1.htm 

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