Fort San Pedro or Fuerte de San Pedro is known to be the oldest Spanish fortification in the Philippines. The triangular-shaped fortress whose two sides look out onto the sea, while the remaining side faces the land—a strategic position at that time to carefully observe the immediate environs, thus protecting the Spanish settlement effectively, is the smallest citadel in the country with a total interior area of 2,025 meters square.
Its towers are 30 feet high from the ground, with walls of 20 feet in height, and 8 feet in thickness. Imagine an average one-storey wall-height of a typical house in the Philippines and turn it horizontal-wise. That would serve as the thickness of Fort San Pedro’s limestone walls!
Built in 1565, with the main purpose of border defense and/or land claim, it was originally constructed out of wood in the coastal area of the present Cebu City, specifically in the adjacent grounds of the present-day Plaza Independencia under the mandate of the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Spanish governor-general of the Philippines. Hence, Fort San Pedro served not only as a fort, but as a garrison as well to defend the [first] Spanish enclave in the Philippines—the Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus (Village of the Most Holy Name of Jesus), in what is today called as Cebu City.
Metamorphoses and Renovations
Over the years, the citadel underwent several metamorphosis and renovations. From the initial wooden structure, the fort many years later welcomed a new anatomy of stone mortar construction, as a defense to the intermittent uprisings of the displeased natives. By 1898, Fuerte de San Pedro fell to the hands of the Cebuano revolutionaries when the Americans under the command of Commodore George Dewey subjugated the Spanish fleets in the Battle of Manila Bay, which marked the fall of Spain. The said battle resulted in the cession of the Philippine archipelago by Spain to the United States.
During the American regime, the fort served initially as the American barracks, after which, in 1937-1941, it was transformed into a school, where Cebuanos were given formal education.
During World War II, that is, from 1942 to 1945, with the successful invasion of Japan, the fort served as the Japanese stronghold. However, it was converted into an emergency hospital to accommodate the wounded in the fight to liberate Cebu from the Japanese Imperial forces later on. Then by 1946-1950, Fort San Pedro functioned as an army camp then following 1950, the Cebu Garden Club assumed the management of the fort, renovated its interiors, and laid out a mini-garden.
Despite of the heavy ruins, the fort was still functional, the upper deck, at least, were used as offices. Its almost-demise came with the announcement of then mayor Sergio Osmeña Jr. to demolish the place and erect in place of it the new Cebu City Hall; nevertheless, it was impeded by massive protests and demonstrations.
After the nearly-demise, Fort San Pedro was used again to house a zoo, which was managed by a religious sect. However, by 1968, the zoo was relocated and the serious and tedious effort to restore the ruined fort started.
Outside the walls of the existing Fort San Pedro are the separate individual statues of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, who commanded the building of the fort; and Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler who joined Ferdinand Magellan’s mission, and who was among the three people who first circumnavigated the world.
Fort San Pedro Today
At present, Fort San Pedro is used as a museum where it houses the Spanish memorabilia and artifacts like documents, files, and the original Spanish flag, as well as some exhibits involving the important rulers of Cebu City, some mini-galleons, and the Cebuano fighters.
Apart from that, the interior garden of the fort sometimes hosts private functions, cultural events, and wedding receptions and is also favorite spot for pre-nuptial pictorials.
And finally, with its relaxing surrounding, Fort San Pedro is also a popular destination for family bonding, romantic rendezvous, and for friendly meet up venue, as well.