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Absolutely No Goofing Around at Fort Santiago’s Dungeons

The Fort Santiago Dungeon is a sacred and historic site where 600 people lost their lives.
IMAGE Intramuros Administration
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 “You are about to enter a sacred and historic site,” reads the sign on the entrance to the Fort Santiago Dungeon.

What is now a tourist attraction was the site of a horrible war crime during World War II, and was used by the Spaniards as a prison in the 16th century.

As you crawl into the tiny entrance, a somber atmosphere takes hold: You just stepped into the hallowed grounds where at least 600 people died of torture and suffocation.

One of the narrow passageways leading to the inner chambers of the Fort Santiago Dungeon. The walls and the archway have been preserved for over 400 years. 

Photo by Intramuros Administration.
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As much as 70 percent of the dungeon's walls have been reinforced and reconstructed, as seen in this photo. The dungeons were partly damaged during the intense shelling of Intramuros in the Battle of Manila. 

Photo by Intramuros Adm.

During the reconstruction, the Intramuros Administration made sure to use the same technique and closest materials possible to replicate the original state of the dungeon in the 1600s. This is seen in the types of stone and mortar used in the walls.

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Photo by Intramuros Administration.

Here, hundreds of magott-eaten bodies were discovered by the Americans when they recaptured Intramuros from the Japanese in 1945. The state in which the bodies were found suggested the victims were tortured, starved, and died of suffocation. 

Photo by Intramuros Administration.
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Statues depicting Filipino and American prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation of Manila are on display at different areas in the dungeon. 

Photo by Intramuros Administration.

This is the largest chamber in the Fort Santiago Dungeon. Most of the 600 victims who perished in this dungeon in 1945 were found here. 

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Photo by Intramuros Administration.

During World War II, the Japanese used the dungeons as a prison and torture chamber for high-value prisoners. During the Battle of Manila, in their haste to destroy Intramuros, the Japanese sealed off the dungeon, leaving the hundreds trapped inside to suffocate.

None of the bodies were recognizable, but some relatives of the victims were able to identify their family through pieces of clothing, such as a belt buckle with a name inscribed on it. When the Americans liberated Manila in 1945, they discovered the 600 bodies piled on top of each other, rotting and eaten by maggots.

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Guards at Fort Santiago Avoided the Dungeon

Prior to its reopening in 2020, guards at Fort Santiago avoided the dungeon because they reportedly heard terrible screams coming out of the dungeon at night. Countless ghostly apparitions have also been reported at the site.

Mass Grave of the 600

Right beside the entrance to the dungeon, a white cross marks the mass grave of the 600 victims who were trapped inside Fort Santiago’s dungeon. According to the grave marker, the victims’ bodies suggested they were starved and died of suffocation.

Grave marker (right) and historical marker (left) on top of the mass grave of the 600 victims pulled out from the Fort Santiago Dungeon in 1945. The site is located beside the dungeon's entrance.

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.
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Inscription on the historical marker commemorating the 600 victims whose bodies were pulled out from the Fort Santiago Dungeon in 1945

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.

This white cross is the grave marker installed on top of the mass grave where the 600 victims who perished inside the Fort Santiago Dungeon. Its inscription describes the state in which the bodies were found, which sugegsted the victims were starved and died of suffocation. 

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Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.

 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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