Spanish Lighthouses of the
When the U.S. captured the Philippines from Spain in 1898, the
Americans inherited close to 60 lighthouses and minor lights built by
the Spanish colonial authorities. Many of the major Spanish
lighthouses survive; in fact, many of them are still in service.
Others have gone to ruin in the tropical climate of the islands.
This report is based on two principal sources, both of which have disappeared
from the Internet:
- Faros Españoles de Ultramar. This was the table
of contents of a book published in Spain, listing lighthouses built in the
Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. For the Philippines
it listed 27 major light stations, 17 luces locales (local lights),
and 14 additional lighthouses built on the more remote islets of the archipleago,
a total of 58.
- The Philippines Lighthouses. This was a web site posted
by Edmund Tan So, who is trying to launch a lighthouse preservation society
in teh Philippines. The site includes technical descriptions of many of the
major Spanish lighthouses contributed by Manuel L. Noche, who also visited
the sites to assess their current condition.
In addition, I have information from:
- Light Lists listing Philippine lights in 1865, 1879, 1895,
1904, and 1920. I am much indebted to Michel Forand for providing this data.
The 27 Major Lighthouses (in the order listed by Faros
Españoles de Ultramar)
- Río Pasig. Located on the north side of the Pasig
River entrance in Manila, this is the oldest light station in the Philippines,
founded in 1642. A 15 m gray stone lighthouse was built here in 1846. Noche
reports that this tower was demolished in 1992. It was replaced by a new stone
lighthouse, which is much inferior architecturally to its predecessor.
- Corregidor. Located on an island in Manila Bay. The original
1835 lighthouse was the oldest in the colony when the Americans arrived. It
had an unusual design, a circular stone tower rising from the center of an
octagonal stone dwelling. The lighthouse was nearly destroyed
during World War II, when American forces held out for months on Corregidor.
It was demolished in 1950, and its stones were used in the construction of
a new lighthouse. The new building has the general form of the old one, with
the tower rising from the center of a building, but it is not a replica. The
new tower is octagonal rather than round, and the building at the base appears
to be 12-sided.
- Pulo Caballo. Caballo is a small island southwest of Corregidor
in Manila Bay. Although this is listed as a major station, the 1904 light
list shows it as a "white house" with a focal plane of only 27 ft (8 m). This
light was built in 1853, the light lists agree. Like Corregidor, Caballo was
heavily shelled in 1942, so it is unlikely the lighthouse survives.
- Bajo de San Nicolás. I believe the Bay of St. Nicholas
is what is now called Cavite Bay, at the south end of Manila Bay, sheltered
by Sangley Point and well known to generations of U.S. Navy seamen. The 1879
light list includes a light at a focal plane of 29 ft "on Sangley Point" and
gives 1864 as the construction date. This light is missing from the 1895 list,
but the 1904 list has a light at 34 ft, built or altered in 1898, described
as "iron frame on Sangley Point." The 1920 list has the same description but
lists the height as 43 ft and the date as 1915; perhaps the light was raised
in that year. Possibly this was an octagonal screwpile lighthouse located
off the point: there was formerly a wonderful drawing of such a lighthouse,
dated 1876, available on the Internet. There is no evidence the lighthouse
survives; the modern light at Sangley Point is on an aviation tower.
- Siete Pecados. The Siete Pecados (Seven Sins) are seven
small islands obstructing the northern approach to Iloilo, the principal port
of Panay. The 1895 light list describes a "gray iron tower, 29 ft high" with
a focal plane of 98 ft. The 1904 list has a "bluish gray tower" at the same
focal plane. Both lists give 1884 as the construction date. The 1920 light
list also has a "bluish gray tower" but the focal plane is only 85 ft and
a date of 1904 is given. I found a very distant photo
from which we cannot determine the nature of the present lighthouse, but it
is white. I believe the Spanish cast iron tower may have been replaced by
an American concrete tower in 1904.
- Isla de Cabra. The island is northeast of Mindoro and is
an important landfall for ships arriving in the Philippines from the South
China Sea. The Spanish lighthouse is a 67 ft (20.5 m) square brick tower completed
in 1889. When Noche visited, the station still had its original lantern and
first order lens, but "the main prisms of the lens were removed to allow the
new solar powered lamp to be installed." The station is intact, but not in
very good condition. The site is remote.
- Punta Capones. This light station is on Capones Island,
off the west coast of Luzon north of Manila. The lighthouse, built off the
same plans as Isla de Cabra, is a 56 ft (17 m) square brick tower completed
in 1890. The lantern and lens have been replaced with modern equipment. Noche
found the tower to be in fairly good condition, but the keeper's house is
in bad shape. In March 2004 the Environmental Protection of Asia Foundation
signed an agreement to restore the light station as the Capones
Island Marine Conservation Research and Development Center.
- Punta Santiago. Cape Santiago is the southwestern point
of Luzon, south of Manila. The lighthouse, a 51 ft (15.5 m) brick tower, differs
from Isla de Cabra and Punta Capones chiefly in being round rather than square.
It was completed in 1890. Noche found it to be in relatively good condition,
having been renovated recently. The lantern and lens have been replaced. Noche
says the area surrounding the lighthouse was slated for a resort development
and the light station could become a bed and breakfast, but this did not come
to pass. In October 2007 the region's Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary proposed
to adopt and restore the lighthouse as its headquarters.
- Cabo Bojeador. One of the best known of all Philippine
lighthouses, located at the northwestern corner of Luzon. It is a 65 ft (20
m) octagonal stone tower completed in 1892. The original lantern and lens
remain, although the lens was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1990; the
active lens is outside the lantern, I believe. This is one of the few Philippine
lighthouses still staffed, although the principal function of the keepers
is to lead tours. Noche found this light station to be in need of renovation.
In June 2003 the government of Ilocos Norte province set up a nonprofit organization,
Cape Bojeador Lighthouse Development Inc., to "rehabilitate" the lighthouse
as one of the principal tourist attractions of the province. It is not clear
whether any restoration work has begun.
- Cabo Melville. This station is at the opposite end of the
Philippines from Cabo Bojeador: it stands on the southern tip of Balabac Island
looking across the Balabac Strait to Borneo. The lighthouse is a 90 ft octagonal
brick tower also completed in 1892. It is conical in form, rather than cylindrical
like Cabo Bojeador. Noche has no report posted on the condition of this very
remote light station. A photo
shows it to be intact but in need of restoration.
- Cabo Engaño. The lighthouse is on Palaui Island
off the northeastern tip of Luzon; it is a major landfall light from ships
arriving from the Pacific. The Spanish lighthouse is an 47 ft (14.5 m) octagonal
stone tower, similar to Cape Bojeador, completed in 1893. Noche described
conditions at the site as "pathetic," but his visit came before renovation
of the tower and installation of a modern lens and lantern. The keeper's house
and other buildings have been heavily vandalized and are probably still in
terrible condition. The site is remote, but not remote enough.
- Punta Luzaran. This station is on Guimaras Island marking
the southern entrance to Iloilo, Panay. The lighthouse, a 17.5 m (58 ft) octagonal
cylindrical tower, was completed in 1894. It appears similar to the Cabo Bojeador
and Cabo Engaño lights. The entire light station is in ruins; the lantern
is gone from the tower and the roof is gone from the keeper's house. I am
not aware of any restoration plans. At some time after 1920 the light was
replaced by what the current NGA list describes only as 38 ft (11.5 m) "metal
- Islote de Manigonigo. The island of Manigonigo is just
off the northeastern corner of Panay. The Spanish built a light here in 1894,
described on the 1895 light list as a "gray iron tower, 34 ft high" having
a focal plane of 68 ft (21 m). The description is the same on the 1904 list;
the 1920 list says the tower is white but retains the 1894 date. The current
NGA list has a "white round tower, dwelling" 29 ft, but the focal plane is
still 68 ft. So very probably the original tower survives. I believe this
is the first of the tourelles, 10 m cylindrical cast iron towers prefabricated
- Islas Gigantes. This station appears as Sibuluak Babai
on the 1904 and 1920 light lists. It is located on North Gigante Island, another
islet off the northeastern tip of Panay. The lists describe it only as a "tower,"
gray in 1904 and white in 1920, with a focal plane of 78 ft (23 m). It is
dated 1895. The NGA list has a "white round tower, white dwelling with red
roof" and gives 38 ft (11.5 m) as the tower height. This is probably a second
- Punta Malabrigo. Malabrigo Point is in southern Luzon,
overlooking the narrow Verde Island Passage between Luzon and Mindoro. The
lighthouse is a 56 ft (17 m) round brick tower, similar to the Punta Santiago
lighthouse, completed in 1896. Noche found the light station to be in unusually
good condition; as usual, the lantern and lens were replaced during the renovation.
In May 2004, Akiko Thomson, an Olympic swimmer who is famous in the Philippines,
formed a group that adopted the lighthouse with the intention of making the
station a center for youth aquatic sports.
- Islas Calabazas. This is another station on an island off
northeastern Panay. The 1895 light list has it as Guimaras Strait, described
as a "white iron tower, about 45 ft high" with a focal plane of 100 ft (30.5
m). The date given is 1894. The 1904 list has the Calabazas Island Light as
an "iron tower, square base, white and grey," also at 100 ft, but the date
given is 1884. This description and date is repeated in the 1920 list. At
some recent time, the light was replaced by a modern concrete tower; a tiny
photo, no longer available, shows this tower looming over the ruins of the
Spanish keeper's house. The original tower may well have been demolished.
- Aparri. This station, also called Punta Linao, marked the
entrance to the port of Aparri on the northern coast of Luzon. The lighthouse
was a cast iron tourelle erected in 1896. Noche visited the site and
reports that the lighthouse has been lost fairly recently to beach erosion.
- Punta Capul. Capul is an island off the northwestern corner of Samar
at the western end of the important San Bernardino Strait between Samar and
Luzon. The Spanish lighthouse is a 12 m (39 ft) granite block tower completed
in 1896. When Noche visited the renovation of the tower was underway, but
he found the condition of the station "deplorable" with the keeper's house
- San Bernardino. The island of San Bernardino is at the eastern end
of the strait that carries its name. The lighthouse, a twin of Punta Capul,
is another 12 m (39 ft) granite block tower, also completed in 1896. Noche
also found this tower under renovation, with its lantern removed, and he says
the station "did not escape the destruction caused by vandals."
- Punta Bugui. Bugui Point is the northwestern point of Masbate, a
significant waypoint on the so-called "Southern Passage" from San Bernardino
Strait to Manila. This light is missing from the 1898 list, and I believe
it was incomplete at the time of the Spanish-American War. The Americans placed
the light in service in 1903.
- Gintotolo. Jintotolo Island, as it is now spelled, is just off the
town of Balud at the southwestern corner of Masbate. The lighthouse is a 51
ft (15.5 m) square stone tower. The photo is small, but we can see the tower
has been restored. It is one of Masbate's best known tourist attractions,
and there is a photo
taken from the tower to indicate it is open for climbing.
- Islote de Captitoncillo. Capitancillo Island, in the modern spelling,
is a small island off northeastern Cebu. The historic lighthouse was replaced
by a slender concrete tower in the 1950s.
- Isla Tanguingui. This is a small island in the Visayan Sea northeast
The 17 Luces Locales (Local Lights)
- San Fernando
- Luz sideral de Punta Sangley
- Puerto Princesa
- Muelle de Opón
The 14 Faros de los Proyectos
- Isla de San Miguel
- Isla Panaón
- Islote de Bantón
- Bajo Apó
- Isla Maniguín
- Isla de Apó
- Maestre del Campo
- Punta Apunán
- Isla de Malapascua
- Punta Bagacay
- Isla Cabilao
- Punta Cabicungán
- Isla de Malaqui
Return to the Lighthouse Directory
August 17, 2004. Checked and revised January 2, 2008. Site
copyright 2008 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.