Many of you must be familiar with Jose Rizal’s poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios,” his last words to his beloved country. Do you know he wrote it while imprisoned in Fort Santiago?
On November 3, 1896, on suspicion of being the leader of the Katipunan, the Spanish authorities had Rizal arrested and locked up in Fort Santiago in Intramuros. On December 26, a military court sentenced him to death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out on December 30 at 7:03 in the morning at the Bagumbayan Field.
Like most of Intramuros, Fort Santiago was destroyed during World War II. The two-storey building, which contains Rizal’s prison cell, originally housed the artillery companies of the Spanish army; the cell on the ground floor was the barracks pantry. It was reconstructed in 1953 to become the Rizal Shrine.
Outside the shrine, a few meters away, are the ruins of another building. This was where Rizal was placed from the time his death sentence was read to him at 6 in the morning on December 29, 1896 until about 6:30 the following morning, when the detachment that was to escort him to Bagumbayan came for him.
You can trace Rizal’s footsteps from his holding cell to the gates of Fort Santiago and up to Bagumbayan.
The Rizal Shrine Fort Santiago is made up of several rooms, each one arranged around a theme. The first room, on the ground floor, by the main entrance, is called Opening to Memory. Its centerpiece is a large oil painting depicting Rizal’s execution done by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco.
The adjoining room, the Chamber of Texts, features excerpts from Rizal’s writings engraved on metal plates as well as personal artifacts such as the hero’s ophthalmologic instruments.
The small, windowless cell where Rizal slept is located at the end of the Garden Gallery. It contains a life-size wax statue of the hero in the act of composing the 14 stanza “Mi Ultimo Adios” sculpted by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino. In this cell Rizal saw his mother for the last time and gave his sister Trinidad the alcohol burner where he hid his last poem.
The Stairway Gallery is hung with paintings portraying episodes in Rizal’s life. It leads to the Reliquary Room containing a piece of Rizal’s Vertebra preserved in glass.
The connecting Valedictory Room is highlighted by the full text of “Mi Ultimo Adios” engraved in sandstone.