The Old Spanish Fort in Olongapo and the Naval Legacy of Subic Bay

Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay

Subic Bay will always be in my mind as the last stronghold of Uncle Sam in the Philippines. It was known as the best naval base of the USA in the Southeast Asian Region. Its deep and fairly protected harbor can handle battleships, submarines, and even large aircraft carriers.

I always thought that the naval history of Subic Bay started during the American Colonial Period until I saw this relic from the past during one of my visit to Olongapo City:

The ruins of Spanish Naval Base and an old cannon in Olongapo City

An old plaque, probably placed by the Americans, tells the history of this old Spanish fort.

Plaque about the old west gate of the Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay

The old plaque reads:

Old West Gate 
This gate was the entrance to the original Spanish Naval Station established in Subic Bayin 1885. The principal Spanish construction lay to the east along what is now Rivera Point and consisted of an arsenal, several warehouses, and a number of shop buildings. 
The base at Subic-Olongapo was used by the Spanish Navy to provide repair supply, ammunition and medical support for ships. The post was commanded by the Second Commandancia of the base at Cavite and was considered a subsidiary of that command. 
The Spanish garrison remained in possesion of the Subic-Olongapo Base until June of 1898 at which time they were driven out by Filipino forces. The area was formally occupied by the U.S. Navy in September of 1899.

The plaque stated that the story of the Spanish fort began in 1885. However, the naval history of Subic Bay actually started much earlier.

In 1542, Spanish explorer Juan de Salcedo discovered Subic Bay but he did not see the value of the bay for the small Spanish colonial navy. It is the Augustinians who took notice of Subic Bay and in 1607 Father Rodrigo de San Miguel established the town of Subic, which included the area which is now called as Olongapo City.

The west gate of the former Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay

The Spanish Colonial Government was contented with its naval base in Cavite until tragedy struck in 1762 when the British captured the Cavite naval base and occupied Intramuros as part of the Seven Years War. The Spaniards discovered the value of Subic Bay and established a naval base there while fighting the Brits.

King Alfonso XII of  Spain formally established the Subic Bay Naval Base in 1884. The construction of Arsenal de Olongapo began in 1885. It was placed under the the deputy commander (segunda commandancia) of the Cavite Naval Base. As the old plaque says, the Spanish naval base in Subic Bay consisted of an arsenal, warehouses, and shop buildings. The Subic Naval Base was grand based on this 1885 painting:

Painting of the Spanish Naval Station in Subic Bay (1898)

The Subic Naval Base was captured by Filipinos during the revolution in 1898 but the Americans drove them out in 1899 during the brutal Filipino-American War.

National Historical Commission marker for the West Gate of the Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay

The West Gate (also known to many as the Spanish Gate) is accessible so I was able to pass through it. Unfortunately, the remains of the gate is all there is to see. 

Bamboo palisade at the old West Gate of the Spanish Naval Station in Subic Bay
The bamboo wall at the back of the old West Gate.

In an old photo, the West Gate has a bell placed on its walls.

Spanish Gate in Olongapo City in Subic Bay circa 1910
The West Gate of the old Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay taken in 1910 (source: Taga Gapo Ka Ba?)

Another old photo shows the bell transferred from the wall to the arched gate.

The Spanish Gate in Olongapo City
(Source: Pilipinas Retrostalgia)

The bell is now gone and what remained are the gate and the bare walls.

It is good to see that this Spanish fort is well preserved. I believe, however, that it is “luckier” than the other Spanish forts found in the provinces. Many of these old forts are in the advanced state of decay and destruction.

The west gate of the Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay

I am delighted to accidentally discovered this relic of the past. It is good to know that Subic Bay has great historic legacy other than being an R and R place for American GIs.


Read about my other latest adventures in Subic Bay

Yummy Eats at Meat Plus Cafe (Subic Bay)
Sleepover in By the Sea Resort Hotel (Barretto, Olongapo)


The history of the old West Gate of the Spanish Naval Base in Subic Bay came from the following sources:
Municipality of Subic website
Subic Spanish Gate in Wikipedia

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  1. Beautiful! Your country's heritage well-preserved.

    1. Yep. I am glad that this relic of our past is well preserved.

  2. You have found this wonderful relic from the past! Interesting to learn from history about the past.

  3. It was the US Navy that preserved the Spanish Gate until their departure in 1992.


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