Allow me to invite you to the historic center of Manila, to the "Intramuros".
When visiting Manila, you can see many attractive places, for example Rizal park which I wrote about here, the oceanarium, museums or the promenade in the Manila Bay. It is also beautiful churches, cathedrals and public buildings. The opportunity to try local specialties from the street bar will complete the set of experiences in the capital of this island country.
One of those places where history is intertwined with the present, where you can feel the historical roots of the Philippines, is exactly "Intramuros". It is an independent district within the Metro Manila agglomeration, enclosed with a defensive wall. It is the first historic center of this city. I believe that this is the heart of Manila, beating continuously over the centuries.
To bring the atmosphere of this place a bit closer, I would compare “Intramuros” to our old town markets. Primary places for each of the cities, from where they grew, absorbing more and more of the surrounding small towns and suburbs, slowly becoming agglomerations.
It was no different with Manila. Everything that remained outside the wall was called "extramuros". It was made up of the suburbs that are now Metro Manila districts, but formerly were independent cities. This is also reflected in the names of Manila's districts, as each of them has “City” in its name. Interestingly, all these cities remained independent until the end of the nineteenth century, as they were not included in the administrative area of the Metro Manila agglomeration until the beginning of the twentieth century.
Historically, the area of "Intramuros" was the seat of the General Captain's Office of the Philippines, which was part of the Spanish Empire and where, from 1574 until the end of Spanish rule in the Philippine archipelago, that is until the Philippine Revolution in 1898, the governor-general was in office.
Surrounded by a thick wall at the mouth of the Pasig River, the city was also the religious and educational center of Manila. Suffice it to say that behind the walls, universities and colleges had their campuses, headed by the oldest university in Asia, the University of Saint Thomas.
Also today, "Intramuros" is a place where six universities have their campuses, with the University of the City of Manila at the forefront.
Intramuros was also an economic center that played an important role in trade between the Philippines and the rest of the world. The seaport, which is located at the mouth of the Pasig River, called the Mexican Square, was the center of trade and goods exchange that the Philippines conducted with the world. It was from here that Filipino galleons flowed to Acapulco in what is now Mexico.
The construction of this part of Manila began in the sixteenth century, considering the site the best position to resist foreign invasion and to relocate the old city center from the gulf coast to the more inaccessible land and sea area of Manila.
It is the area of the present Fort Santiago, located at the mouth of the Pasig River, that was considered the best located and safe place. The city was fortified around this location and expanded inland.
It must be said that the walls, 2.5 to 7 meters wide, played their role for a long time. The fortified part of the city with gates, moats and raised bridges resisted all invaders for a long time.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Americans occupied the Philippines, the burden of city development was shifted to exactly the same place from which Manila grew, i.e. the bay, building a new deepwater port there and developing coastal infrastructure.
With time, therefore, the historic city center, surrounded by a thick wall, began to play a representative role for the city authorities and a recreational role for its inhabitants.
It must also be said that "Intramuros" had no luck in the subsequent wars. In 1945, during the Battle of Manila, occupied by Japanese troops, this part of the city was devastated by artillery fire, which wiped out 95% of the buildings of "Intramuros". The only building that survived was St. Augustine's Church, which is now the oldest church in the entire Philippines. It is therefore not difficult to guess that the entire infrastructure of campuses, universities, government administration buildings and all other churches has been destroyed.
This place was rebuilt right after the end of the Second World War and UNESCO included "Intramuros" on the World Cultural Heritage list.
Despite the really great efforts of the Filipinos, to this day some of the reconstruction of the buildings has not been completed and some of it can be considered irretrievably lost.
The administration of “Intramuros”, which is today a separate district of Manila, is making every effort and really, with great effort, rebuilds carefully building after building. You can see it when I walk through a bit dark, narrow streets, looking at old buildings, mossy, black, fungus walls, where you can feel in the air, palpably rich history of this place.
The most interesting place that I personally like the most, but also recommend it, is the Roman Square. Rectangular park with Saint Augustine's Cathedral, King Charles IV Monument, City Council buildings and Governor's Palace.
It is also here that the seat of the Archdiocese and the Philippine Bishops' Conference is now located. Such saturation with churches is not surprising. The Philippines is the mainstay of Christianity in Asia. They are one of the few countries where the dominant religion is Christianity, which is associated with the times of Spanish colonialism. The Philippines was part of the Spanish Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries.
To visit “Intramuros” it is best to go on foot through Rizal Park and then enter through one of the West Gates, where you will meet the offer of renting a tricycle immediately after crossing it.
And I will be honest. I highly recommend this form of visiting “Intramuros” as the first step to delve into the narrow, cobbled streets. Order a full round trip in a three-wheeler, which costs around 500 Philippine pesos and you will be driven through the most important places of the "city behind the wall", so that you can get to know the whole of this place, find out where it is worth coming back to, for example, eat the local "sigang" or "bulalo" soup and finally where to spend the evening drinking the local San Miguel beer.
Riding a tricycle will also be an opportunity to see quite a large part of "Intramuros". See the walls from both sides, climb one of them and admire the thickness of the fortifications, which in some places even reaches 8 meters, or touch the original 500-year-old stones covered with lichen and black-gray mold.
Reach Fort Santiago, which is preceded by a beautiful garden with fantastic trees. Art vernissages are often held there, so you can find an exhibition of natural sculpture or spatial installations.
In the Roman Square you will find the Cathedral of Manila, the city hall building facing the former governor's palace and the statue of King Charles IV.
Intramuros is also home to many churches. It is the already mentioned cathedral of St. Augustine from 1607, there are also Franciscan, Capuchin and Jesuit churches. They are all located in this small, walled city that is also called by Filipinos, the city of churches.
As an interesting fact, during the reign of Spain in the Philippines, there were about 1,200 Spanish families in "Intramuros".
Unfortunately for the district, the Second World War, and especially the Battle of Manila in 1945, completed the wave of destruction of the Intramuros. After heavy artillery fire, no stone was left on the stone and over 100,000 Filipinos were killed.
Walking through the streets of the old town you can see exactly what damage has been done. You can still see the traces of bullets, chipped stones, and jagged boulders of the foundations.
The buildings themselves are full of galleries, small courtyards and often overgrown with vegetation.
Rainwater oozing from the roofs lazily, the specific smell of old sandstone mixed with the not-so-liked smell of a mushroom, create a unique atmosphere that I personally like very much.
The walls surrounding the entire old town have an irregular shape, containing about 64 ha of land. The longest stretch of straight walls is little more than 3 km long. Of the original 10 entrance gates to this part of the city, five remain.
The city was completely surrounded and only accessible through the gates. They were closed at night at 11 p.m. and opened at 4 a.m. until 1852.
Immediately after crossing the gate, you will find the entrance to the boulevard on the wall, i.e. the space between the outer and inner part of the fortifications, where today you can walk and observe the golf course that is nearby and is actively used by tourists and residents of Manila.
Walking along the walls you will reach Fort Santiago, where the history museum "Intramuros" is located in the surviving buildings. There are antique items historically and culturally related to Manila. Period costumes, furniture, everyday items. In the educational part you will also find a very nicely described history of this place, documented with many photographs from that time and reproductions of paintings.
Today it is also a slightly commercialized part of the city, with many souvenir shops, street stalls, but also with a very rich local color. After all, it is a district where ordinary people of Manila live. In "houses" built of sheet metal, covered with foil, where whole families sleep in tents on the street while running a small, street business.
Countless cafes, restaurants, small and large pubs have created an amazing atmosphere and specificity of this place.
“Intramuros” is also a lively university town, with universities still having their headquarters and campuses.
When it comes to religious monuments, I recommend visiting the Manila Cathedral, which is also a metropolitan basilica, and the Church of Saint Augustine, entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. After all, these are two of the most beautiful baroque churches in the Philippines. They make an amazing impression, especially when you visit them in the evening and even better during the night when there is a full moon. Then the full moon shines just above the church buildings and creates a beautiful, mystical sight.
"Intramuros" is also an opportunity to see several monuments. In my opinion, the most interesting are the statue of King Charles IV in the Roman Square, the statue of King Philip II in the Spanish Square and the statue of Queen Isabella II.
So if you want to learn a bit about the history of the Philippines, touch real historical artifacts, learn the stories of King Charles IV or Philip II and Queen Isabella II, as well as see the oldest church in the Philippines and feel the atmosphere of colonial times, "Intramuros" is a great place for this.
The whole trip, including visiting Fort Santiago, seeing all the monuments, visiting at least two churches, walking along the side streets, and having lunch and dinner, will take you a full day.
When planning accommodation, I recommend Red Planet hotels as usual, which at a price of up to $ 40 per room allow for a bit of comfort, guarantee good service and, due to their location, will allow you to complete your trip plan without getting stuck in traffic jams.
Impressive stone walls, gray walls of buildings and cobbled streets make "Intramuros" a unique place that will remain in your memory for a long time.
Life is a moment, art is eternity...
Ang buhay ay isang sandali, ang sining ay walang hanggan
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