Nowadays, Manila is an enormous city, or rather, a collection of cities, with one of the highest populations in Asia. It can look modern, chaotic, and intimidating. At the core, however, lies a quiet corner, the original seed out of which this metropole grew: Intramuros. After the Spanish conquered the previous settlement on the Pasig River, they constructed a fortress and an adjacent walled city in the 1570s, when Manila was selected to be the capital of the new colony of the Philippines. After that, Manila was the focus of many attacks by pirates, colonial powers, and occupied by foreign forces like the Americans and the Japanese. On top of attacks and destruction by human hands, the city has also been threatened and in several occasions destroyed by natural forces like typhoons, fire, and earthquakes.
Originally built as a stately settlement for the Spanish rulers, Intramuros counted with grand government buildings and cobble stone streets - like you can still see in other parts of the world, although it was unique in Asia. Manila, however, was heavily targeted at the end of World War II, and became the second most destroyed city after Warsaw, with 150,000 civilian victims on the Philippino side, at least partly because of a Japanese commander not following orders to retreat; his soldiers took their frustration to the population. Intramuros was badly damaged: only one church and the walls remained standing. Ever since the restoration of the 1980s, Intramuros has regained some of the attractiveness it must once have had.
As soon as I walked through the gate, the hectic life of modern Manila dissolved behind me, and I found myself exploring this historic part of the Philippines capital. I walked the old city walls, which are very broad in some parts, have mossy areas on which old cannons are still pointing outwards, and saw more old city gates. The oldest church of the Philippines is here: San Agustin; a lovely colonial church with a courtyard and museum. On the northern side of Intramuros, I found the cathedral, and even more to the north, Fort Santiago: the original Spanish fortress. Here, you can find several places of historical interest, like the cell in which national hero Rizal was kept the day before his execution. From its walls, you can see the chaotic and lively Binondo district right across the Pasig River. When you see the modern parts of the city all around you, you cannot but thank the local government for protecting this historical site. One of the most surprising things, I found, was the fact that the area just outside the old walls has now been converted into a golf course, thus underlining the integration of past and present in this over 400 year old area.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Intramuros (Philippines). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Intramuros. Read more about this site.