One of my favorite things about traveling abroad is immersing myself into the culture of the country I’m in, enjoying the different foods and delicacies and last but not least, the history and architecture.
This is why I love visiting the South Pacific. Most countries in this region have been affected by multiple colonizations. You can see the how different cultures were combined and how they influenced each other. You can almost always see these effects in the food and the architecture. The Philippines are a great example of a melting pot of cultures. During a layover in Manila, I was able to go explore the city and its colonial past.
Intramuros is Latin for “within the walls” and is the historic core of Manila. It also has the nickname the Walled City. Intramuros was the seat of government for the Philippines while under the Spanish Empire. Construction of the walls was started by Spanish colonial government in the late 16th century to protect the city from foreign invasions. The walled city was originally located along the shores of the Manila Bay, south of the entrance to Pasig River. Guarding the old city is Fort Santiago, its citadel located at the mouth of the Pasig River.
During the rebuilding process after World War II, land reclamation, and the construction of the Port of Manila has obscured Intramuros and Fort Santiago from Manila Bay.
The outline of the defensive wall of Intramuros is irregular in shape, following the contours of Manila Bay and the curvature of the Pasig River. An inner moat surrounds the perimeter of the wall and an outer moat surrounds the walls that face the city, with the Pasig River serving as a natural barrier on one side. By the 18th century, the city was totally enclosed.
The double moats that surrounded Intramuros were later deemed unsanitary during the American occupation and were filled in with mud from Manila Bay where the present Port of Manila is now located. The moats were transformed into a municipal golf course by the city.
The main square of the city was Plaza de Roma in front of the Manila Cathedral. The plaza was given its current name in 1961, following the elevation of Rufino Santos to the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church as the first Filipino cardinal. In recognition of this, the city of Rome reciprocated by subsequently renaming one of its squares Piazzale Manila.
At the center of Plaza de Roma is a monument to Charles IV of Spain which was erected in 1824 in his honor for having sent the first batch of smallpox vaccine to the Philippines. A fountain surrounding the monument was subsequently erected in 1886. There are lots of street peddlers around the cathedral and fountain, selling everything from rosaries to edible treats.
The Manila Cathedral is one of the two remaining churches, out of the original eight, that were located within the walls of Intramuros. San Agustin Church, the oldest building in Manila completed in 1607, is the other.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, San Agustin Church was turned into a concentration camp for prisoners. The church survived the flattening of Intramuros by combined American and Filipino ground forces in May, 1945 with only its roof damaged, the only one of the seven churches in the walled city at that time to remain standing. The Manila Cathedral was later rebuilt in the 1950’s.
Intramuros was the center of large educational institutions in the country and is still home to one of the oldest educational institutions in the Philippines, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran founded in 1620, rebuilding its campus in the same location after its destruction during the war.
A total of four foreign flags have been flown over Intramuros; the Spanish(1571-1898), the British(1762-1764), the American(1898-1946) and the Japanese(1942-1945). You can see the way each occupation has affected the area, and how it’s created a unique and diverse culture.
When visiting Manila, be sure to go explore Intramuros for yourself. It’s not far from the airport, so you can check it out on an extended layover(like me) or come and make an adventure out of it!
Here are a few tips you may be able to use while exploring Intramuros.
1. There is a small entry fee to enter Intramuros, which goes towards the upkeep and rehabilitation of the area.
2. If you’re interested in playing golf on the course, here is a link to the club’s Facebook page. It’s a short, but challenging course.
3. There are quite a few events that happen throughout the year within Intramuros. For more info, click here.
4. Be safe and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Be sure to prepare adequately before heading out. And above all, have fun!
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