Fort Santiago, the Spanish-era fortress of Intramuros, is one of the top destinations in the city of Manila. No tour of the Philippine capital is complete without exploring this famous landmark and heritage site. But did you know that Fort Santiago isn’t the only colonial-period fortress in the city? Another one stands in the district of Malate, outside the walls of Intramuros, albeit hidden away within the central bank complex.
Fort San Antonio Abad, also known as Fort Malate or Fuerte de San Antonio Abad, is a 16th century Spanish fort located within the complex of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP; Central Bank of the Philippines). This lesser-known heritage site is open to the public, however, visits can be arranged on an appointment basis only. I wanted to visit this fort last year, but guests were required to present a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours before the visit. Due to this inconvenience, I decided to postpone my plans.
On a Manila trip earlier this month, I finally got to the visit Fort San Antonio Abad with a friend. Fortunately, BSP no longer requires antigen tests from visitors, and only asked us to present our COVID-19 vaccination cards. We were the first tourists to visit the fort since the pandemic!
Dedicated to St. Anthony the Abbot, Fort San Antonio Abad was originally built in 1584 at what was then the separate hamlet of Malate, south of Intramuros. The structure guarded the rear side of Manila as well as the Manila-Cavite route. Earlier known as Fuerte de Polverina, it was also used as a polvorista (gunpowder magazine) to safely store gunpowder. During the British Invasion of Manila in 1762, the fort was captured by British forces and used as a garrison to launch offensives against the Spaniards defending Intramuros. The fort was heavily damaged during World War II, and was restored in the 1970s.
Relatively small in size, the diamond-shaped fort can be quickly explored in less than half an hour. The most detailed portion would be the original main entrance to the fort decorated with a relief of the Spanish coat of arms and topped by finials. One can walk atop the entire wall perimeter, which can be reached by stone steps. A large cannon, damaged during World War II, stands at either side of the fort on arrowhead-shaped bulwarks.
How to Get There
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas complex is 1 kilometer away (15-minute walk) from Quirino LRT-1 Station. Visitors must enter through Gate 3, located along A. Mabini St.
Visits to Fort San Antonio Abad must be arranged in advance through the Corporate Affairs Office of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the fort’s high-security location, visitors are required to submit personal details, sign a conforme, and present copies of COVID-19 vaccination cards.