Historic Sites

Historic Sites

Learn about the island’s past! Fill up on history at the many cliffs and caves, peaks and breathtaking view points, that offer you a glimpse into the rich history of these amazing islands.

Saipan

Last Command Post

The Last Command Post is a reinforced cave constructed by the Japanese military in early 1944 and served as a component of Japan’s World War II defensive fortification system from attack by American forces. Although the island was declared secured on 9 July 1944, sporadic fighting continued for weeks. The actual last command post of Lt. General Yoshitsugu Saito was a cave, in a valley behind San Roque Village, from which Saito issued a final all-out counter-attack before committing suicide on 7 July 1944. Several guns and other military equipment were placed on static display in front of the Last Command Post in the 1960s.

Banzai Cliff

An indentation off the coastline between Puntan Sabaneta to the west and Puntan Lagua Kattan to the east, the cliff sits 30 meters high on an area called Banaderu, a Chamorro word for muddy or wet place, suggesting a prior existence of wetland.

During the final days of World War II, hundreds of Japanese and Okinawan civilians, rather than face capture, jumped off the high sea cliffs, due in no small part to Japanese propaganda that described enemy troops as beasts. Soon after, this stretch of shoreline became known as Banzai Cliff, a designation that is still used today. In 2005, Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Banzai Cliff to pray for the souls of those who perished in the Battle of Saipan.

Suicide Cliff

Rising over 800 feet, Suicide Cliff juts out over the relatively flat plains of Marpi.  The site where many Japanese civilians and soldiers who jumped off of the high cliffs rather than surrender to the American forces in the last days of the battle for Saipan, memorials to the deceased are speckled along the cliff’s edge. Unobstructed views of the northern tip of the island, an abandoned WWII airfield, and Banzai Cliff, can be seen from the lookout points. Suicide Cliff has also served as a launchpad for hang-glider competitions, and an access-point to the “Banadero Trail,” a hiking path that leads to the Last Command Post.

Sleeping Lady

Looking up towards the mountains coming down from the Suicide Cliff, one is entranced by an outline of the natural landscape that resembles a large lying figure of a sleeping lady. Not unlike the story of Gaia, the landscape comes with its own set of spiritual legends.

Kalabera Cave

One of the great wonders on Saipan, this important cultural and historical site takes its name from the Chamorro and Spanish word meaning “skull.” The walls were decorated with pictographs or rock art drawn by ancient Chamorro artists hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The cave was also used as a burial site, signaling the powerful meaning the place held for the ancient people of The Marianas. The inner formations of the cave resemble a skull. Remaining artifacts underscore the spiritual resonance of this site well worthy of our respect.

Kalabera Cave

One of the great wonders on Saipan, this important cultural and historical site takes its name from the Chamorro and Spanish word meaning “skull.” The walls were decorated with pictographs or rock art drawn by ancient Chamorro artists hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The cave was also used as a burial site, signaling the powerful meaning the place held for the ancient people of The Marianas. The inner formations of the cave resemble a skull. Remaining artifacts underscore the spiritual resonance of this site well worthy of our respect.

Mt. Tapachau (Okso Tapochau)

Comprised of uplifted limestone, Mt. Tapochau (Okso Tapochau) stands as the highest point on the island of Saipan. One is afforded a majestic view of Saipan and nearby Tinian and Aguiguan from its summit. Thousands of Catholics trek up each Good Friday to plant a large wooden cross. The ancient Chamorros may have used the mountain as a navigational landmark, a function it continues to serve today.

Isley Field

Named after Lieutenant Commander Robert Henry Isely, who was one of the first fatalities of the WWII Battle for Saipan, the Japanese military airfield was operational by 1941. Its single runway was servicing both fighter and bomber aircrafts. The facility was also equipped with a reinforced concrete building complex that included fuel storage bunkers, air raid shelters and operations buildings. For much of the war in the Pacific, the Naval Airfield served as a staging area for Japanese aircrafts to other parts of the Pacific. The situation had reversed itself by June 1944 as the airfield became a target for American carriers that attacked the airfield in advance of the American invasion of Saipan.

Thousands of marines and soldiers came ashore to wrestle the strategic island away from its determined Japanese defenders on 15 June. Isely Airfield fell to the 27th Army Division on 18 June and they immediately began repairs for use by American planes. The operational objective for Battle for Saipan was to establish an airfield from which the B 29 bombers can be launched against Japan. In 1975, Isely Field became the Saipan International Airport.

Bird Island (Isleta’n Maigo Fahang)

Situated in a picturesque bay in Saipan’s rugged northeastern coast, the tiny, rugged island is separated from Saipan by a fringing reef, a narrow stretch of shallow lagoon and a lovely white sand beach. During the Japanese administration, the island was known as tsukimi or “moon viewing island.” So named for the hundreds of birds that nest there, Bird Island is a must-see attraction in Saipan. One of the marine sanctuaries where fishing is strictly prohibited, it is also one of the three areas on Saipan with volcanic deposits.

Catholic Church Bell Tower

Located adjacent to Garapan’s Kristo Rai Catholic Church, the “original” bell tower built by Spanish Jesuit priests in late 19th century no longer remains. The tower that stands now dates back to 1932 as the only remnant of Our Lady of Carmel (known as Kristo Rai Church today).

Mount Carmel Cathedral

Built by community and surplus building materials supplied by the U. S. military, the present Mount Carmel Cathedral sits on the pre-war Japanese sugar mill (NKKK) site. With beautiful stain glass windows and flavor all its own, Mount Carmel Cathedral has been serving as the religious and social center of the island since 1949.  The Bishop of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, directly appointed by the Pope at Vatican City, holds weekly services here. Visitors are asked to respect the Cathedral grounds by remaining silent and well-mannered.

Sugar Dock

Under the direction of Haruji Matsue, the Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha (NKKK) established the sugar industry on Saipan. All three major plantations: As Lito, Chacha (Kagman) and Marpi Point provided tons of cane that were processed in the sugar mill and taken to Sugar Dock to be shipped to Japan. After the capture of Saipan during World War II, Sugar Dock was used by the U. S. military. Several intact Japanese Zero fighter planes were taken to Sugar Dock for shipment back to the United States. One of the planes is now on display at the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Today, Sugar Dock, launches boats and is a favorite swimming area for island residents.

Chalan Kanoa Village

Prior to Japanese administration, the Chalan Kanoa area served as a large coconut plantation for the copra trade and cattle husbandry that served as one of the five Spanish crown deeds. It bears a name from a long line of water troughs for the cattle. In 1916, two Japanese firms attempted to establish sugar industry on Saipan. One failed, stranding about 1,000 imported Japanese laborers with their barracks in Chalan Kanoa. The second, headed by Haruji Matsue, succeeded and Chalan Kanoa became the site of a mill town for hundreds of laborers who worked in the nearby sugar mill. Only Japanese and Okinawans resided in Chalan Kanoa in the pre-war years.

Following the battle of Saipan, the village was used as a civilian camp where Chamorros and Carolinians were provided emergency shelter and food.  Following the closure of the Camp in July 1946, Chalan Kanoa became the largest residential village on Saipan.  Historical remnants from the Japanese administration can be seen throughout the village including two well-preserved wooden residences.

Sugar King Park

Located adjacent to Garapan Central Park, the park is dominated by a larger-than-life sized statue of Matsue Haruji (1876-1954), the Japanese entrepreneur who established the highly profitable sugar industry in the islands in the early 1920s. In 1932, the Japanese government erected the statute for Matsue who was known as the “Sugar King” by that time. A locomotive – German designed and built – the only one extant on Saipan, that once pulled rail cars loaded with sugar canes stands next to the former Japanese teacher’s house.

Tinian

House of Taga (As Taga)

A large twelve stone latte house, As Taga is part of an extensive Latte Period Village site built roughly 1000 A.D. Legends tell us Chief Taga had superhuman strength and buried the remains of his daughter in the hollowed-out cavity of one of the capstones. The latte shafts of the House of Taga measure four meters in height, making it the largest latte house ever erected in The Marianas. The existing Taga Latte Stone is only one of eighteen that used to stand erect before the arrival of Europeans. Cultural deposits and human burials underlay the site but by World War II, only two shafts and capstones remained standing. Sadly, naval shellfire destroyed one of these last two.

Taga Well

According to legend, this well was dug by Chief Taga and served as a fresh water source for his family. An English naval officer, Commodore George Anson, mentioned this well in a written account of his visit to Tinian in 1742. Anson tells of how one of his men fell into the well during a fight and drowned. The sides of the well are stone lined and, similar to other wells, dug into the coastal lowlands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota to reach a layer of fresh water that floats atop the denser seawater.

Atomic Bomb Pit (North Field)

The atomic bomb pits were constructed at North Field in anticipation of the atomic bomb attacks to be launched against Japan by the 509th Composite Group. In 1945, the uranium bombs nicknamed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” were loaded into the Enola Gay and Bockscar, respectively, from Pit One to fly the atomic missions against the cities of Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on 9 August.

Suicide Cliff (Tinian)

Heavy fighting raged from 30 July to 1 August 1945 and as American forces closed in, dozens of Japanese combatants and civilians jumped from sea cliffs that fringe southern Tinian rather than surrender to American forces. Memorials have been erected to remember those who lost their lives during the war and this area provides a scenic view of the ocean and serves as a popular cliff fishing spot.

Puntan Taddong

The name means “deep” in Chamorro and the area is also known as Kiluus, or “Cross,” due to the presence of a concrete cross erected in early 1970s in memory of several Tinian residents who were lost at sea in a boating accident. The waters off Puntan Taddong are often rough and the currents extremely dangerous. Combined with a healthy shark population, spear fishing in this area is extremely dangerous. Tide tables should not be explored by visitors as they are often washed by large waves.

Puntan Carolinas

The southernmost point of Tinian is called Puntan Carolinas that affords a panoramic view of the Tinian Channel and Aguiguan Island. Small boat operators use this point as a navigational landmark when approaching Tinian Harbor.

North Field

The U.S. military began immediate construction of North Field after the island was captured from the Japanese in July 1944. Built atop Ushi Point Airfield that had been built by the Japanese, North Field can accommodate the B-29 Super fortress, an advanced bomber that combined a large bomb load with an extremely long range.

Four runways each 8,500 feet long made North Field the largest operational airfield in the world at the height of combat operations in the summer of 1945. On 6 August 1945, a B-29 nicknamed Enola Gray, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, flew the first atomic mission to Hiroshima followed by the B-29, named Bockscar, to Nagasaki on 9 August. Today, North Field is used as a military training area.

Rota (Luta)

As Nieves Latte Stone Quarry (Taga Stone Quarry)

The As Nieves Latte Stone Quarry is the most spectacular latte quarry in the Mariana Islands. It consists of nine huge latte shafts and seven capstones in various stages of the quarrying process. It is unknown why this quarry was abandoned; some believe that the bedrock was not hard enough and some of the columns may have cracked. Others believe the quarrying operations were interrupted by Spanish colonization. Some archaeologists suggest that the ancient Chamorro craftsmen used fire to aid in the quarry process.  Based on calculations, each latte shaft weighs 26 tons and individual capstone 18.5 tons.

Tonga Cave

A large, natural cave adjacent to Songsong Village, it is likely that ancient Chamorros used Tonga Cave for a variety of purposes over thousands of years.

During World War II, the Japanese military used the cave to house a small hospital. Before concrete housing, Rota residents used Tonga Cave as a refuge during typhoons. It is a beautiful natural feature with stalactites and stalagmites in profusion.

East Harbor

Located in a narrow cut in the fringing reef in Sasanhaya Bay, the Japanese originally constructed East Harbor in the early 1930s. Since it sits exposed to southwesterly swells, the harbor has been damaged on many occasions over the years especially by tropical storms and typhoons. It is now used primarily as a small boat launching spot.

Japanese Cannon (140mm Coastal  Defense Rifle)

A Japanese 140 mm pedestal mounted naval gun that had a range of about 17,000 meters. The gun was to protect the anchorage in Sasanhaya Bay as part of Japan’s defense of Rota during World War II. A second casemate, without weapon, is located just to the west of this site.

The gun emplacement was built by the Japanese military in 1941. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Pona Point Fishing Cliff (Puntan Pona)

Point of land on the eastern tip of Sasanhaya Bay, this is the only area on Rota where volcanic rocks are present. This area is called Talakhaya and due to its underlying volcanic geology, the only area on Rota that possesses freshwater streams. Pona Point is a popular cliff fishing location where the annual Rota Cliff Fishing Derby is held. A lucky angler may hook up a large skipjack or yellowfin tuna while enjoying the panoramic view of the southern coast of the island.

 

Bird Sanctuary (Chenchun)

The Chenchun Bird Sanctuary comprises the rugged area between Puntan As Fani and Taksunok on Rota’s southeastern coast. The overlook affords visitors a bird’s eye view of the sanctuary. The pristine limestone forest has never been disturbed and provides important nesting areas for a range of sea birds seen roosting throughout the sanctuary. Archaeological investigations have documented several ancient Chamorro latte villages.

 

Japanese Locomotive

A Pre-World War II railroad locomotive used to haul sugar cane from the fields to the mill in Songsong Village. This is the only locomotive associated with the sugar cane industry that is still in its traditional location.

Chugai Cave

The Chugai Pictograph site comprises of roughly 90 individual images painted on the walls of a natural cave in the southwestern corner of Rota’s Chugai area. The drawings are in black, dark gray and light brown pigments in lines and geometric shapes that also include smaller number of animal shaped figures, the most obvious of which are sea turtles and a large billfish. Experts suspect these drawings reflect ties with ancient Chamorro ancestor worship. The cave remains one of the most impressive examples of Chamorro rock art in the Mariana Islands.

The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Mochong Latte Village

Mochong is the largest latte village in The Marianas. Located on the rocky northern coast of Rota, remnants extend about 1,500 feet along the shore. Rows of stone slabs and another example of fourteen latte stone sets are unusual designs of occupation that started 3,000 years ago. The site has stratified cultural deposits that contain stone, bone, shell and ceramic tools. Historians believe Mochong was abandoned at the end of the seventeenth century when villagers were forced into two mission villages of Songsong and Agusan.

Dugai Latte Village (Dugi)

The village is of sixteen individual latte structures built within a flat, grassy area atop a plateau. This plateau is roughly 100 meters above sea level and is the highest of three consecutive plateaus that give Rota its distinctive pyramidal profile.

Mount Taipingot (Wedding Cake Mountain)

Mt. Taipingot is an impressive rock outcropping at the southern end of the Songsong isthmus. Commonly called “Wedding Cake Mountain” for its distinctive terraces, it rises to a height of 143 meters. During 17th and 18th centuries, fires were burned on top of Taipingot during June to guide Spanish galleons on their way to Manila. Although hiking is permitted, plants or animals should not be disturbed. Fishing in the surrounding waters is strictly prohibited in this conservation zone.

German Chapel

This chapel is the only remaining structure on Rota dating from the German Period. Constructed in 1912, Pa’le Corbinian directed its rectangular shape and momposteria (coral rocks held in place by lime cement) style in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes. The cross is in German style.

Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha Sugar Mill

In early 1930s, the Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha (NKK) extended the sugar industry to Rota. Cane brought to the Songsong mill via a narrow-gauge railroad system was refined and then shipped to Japan. Bombing raids during World War II heavily damaged the mill. Today only portions of the extensive mill are present.

Real (Old Spanish Government Building)

The Casa Real is the one of two extant Spanish era buildings on Rota. Built at the very end of the Spanish administration (late 1890s) just before the islands were purchased by Germany, the building is built in the momposteria style. This building continued to be used through the early post-war years but most of its walls were knocked over during a typhoon in the 1980s.

Songsong Conbento (Spanish Convent)

Under the direction of the parish priest, the Songsong Conbento was constructed in the early 1890s. It is the sole architectural feature still standing in The Marianas from the Spanish Period. Its original roof was of thatched pandanus but was replaced sometime during the German Period with corrugated iron sheets. The flooring is made of “ifet” wood and several extensions have been added.

Tatachog Village

In the mid-1930s, the Japanese administration ordered the relocation of Chamorros from their traditional village at Songsong to a new village that was constructed at Tatachog. This was to accommodate the growing Japanese population that desired to reside in Songsong which served as the island’s main settlement and commercial center. The Nanyo Kohatsu Kaisha paid for the construction of a new church and rectory at Tatachog. Rota residents stayed until forced to abandon their homes during World War II when they returned to their lands in Songsong.

Mount Sabana

The highest point on Rota, Mount Sabana was used in the mid-1600s as a place for fires to be burned in June to serve as a guide for approaching Spanish galleons. These galleons were required to make provisioning stops at either Rota or Guahan before proceeding to the Philippines. As the ship approached, hundreds of Chamorro canoes would sail out to meet it. Fresh fruits, fish and water were traded for bits of iron. In 1973, a peace memorial was erected at Mount Sabana to honor the Chamorros and Japanese who lost their lives on Rota during World War II.

As Matmos

As Matmos (at the place of drowning) is located on the northeastern end of Rota. Low sea cliffs provide excellent access to offshore waters on calm days. As Matmos is also the venue for the annual Cliff Fishing Derby. Large surf that normally breaks against the shore is very dangerous.