Plan and details of Zamboanga Lighthouse, April 1, 1886 Document of the Month – April 2023


King Charles III of Spain issued a Royal Decree on September 6, 1834 abolishing the Royal Company of the Philippines and opening Manila’s port to international trade by 1835. The decree came out twenty years after the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, which ended when the last galleon from Manila sailed for Mexico in 1815.


Although Manila was already an old trading port, its wharves were only made available to world traders in 1835. The opening of provincial ports to other traders followed in 1855. This brought about the installation of vital port features like buoys, lighthouses, and custom houses. The first lighthouse tower in the country was built on a site near the mouth of Pasig River in 1846 and the second one was erected at Corregidor island in 1853. All the lighthouses built then were, and are still, important guides to ship navigators preparing to dock at various ports located throughout the archipelago.


By virtue of a Royal Decree on January 24, 1833, Zamboanga was envisioned to be a port of entry and a custom house at the southern end of the archipelago. However, progress in southern Mindanao, particularly of Davao, Jolo, and Zamboanga, was slow. The Manila central government only had control of these places during the last part of the 19th Century. This was made possible after the signing of a joint agreement between the central government and the ruling datu of these areas.


The Faro de Zamboanga plans and details were done on April 1, 1886. The illustrations included elevation details of a tower incorporating hard timbers as posts, beams, and ladders. The five-storey lighthouse, towering at around forty-five (45) feet, included an apparatus and a lamp installed at the highest section under a covered roof. Named Luz del Puente de Zamboanga (Zamboanga’s bridge light), the tower was built at the Muelle de Zamboanga (Zamboanga Pier) and situated at the juncture of three streets: Calle de Marina, Calle Zamboanga, and Calle de G.P.M. de Mindanao. However, these old street names cannot be located in any of the available old maps of Zamboanga.


The lighthouse was ultimately built. In the table of contents of the book, “Faros Espanoles de Ultramar (Spanish overseas lighthouses),” twenty-seven (27) major lighthouses, seventeen (17) luces locals (local lights) and fourteen (14) additional stations in remote islets of the Philippine archipelago were reported completed. The Zamboanga lighthouse was one of the seventeen local lights finished at that time.


Major lighthouses were built with stone, concrete, and steel. The minor ones were constructed using available timbers and light materials available in the area. Fresnel lenses were installed in many of the lighthouse. Lighthouses that have survived the passage of time to this day are the well-built ones. During the period of the revolts in Luzon as well as the time when the Visayans went against the Spanish colonial government, and when the Spanish-American War was raging, all ports were closed. These were re-opened only under the newly-established colonial authority of the United States of America. Operations started anew in Manila on August 20, 1898, in Iloilo and Panay on February 22, 1899, in Cebu on March 14, 1899, in Jolo and Zamboanga on December 26, 1899 and in Aparri, Cagayan on June 1, 1902.


The old Zamboanga lighthouse in the city is now gone. But another one, which was erected in Labuan, remains along Limpapa National Road. This is known as the Parola de Labuan, facing the west coast of Zamboanga Peninsula. Today, it is considered a major tourist attraction in Zamboanga, Zamboanga del Sur.


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References: ABUEG, LUISITO C. “An economic history of Philippine trade: 1810-1899.” DLSU Business and Economic Review, 26 (2) 2017. p. 125-146.


AGUILAR, FILOMENO V., JR. “Beyond inevitability: the opening of Philippine provincial ports in 1855.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 25, no. 1, March 1994, p. 70-90.


DEPARTMENT of Mindanao & Sulu report by Military Governor General John J. Pershing, 1912.


NOCHE, MANUEL MAXIMO LOPEZ DEL CASTILLO. Lonely sentinels of the Philippine sea: the Spanish lighthouses in the Philippines. Manila, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2005.


“Spanish Lighthouses of the Philippines” Ibiblio. Accessed on March 17, 2023.