Just 15 hours away via plane heading west from Denver, the metropolitan city of Manila is one of the best travel bargains to those who want to venture in a foreign land but don’t want to struggle with a foreign language.
In the heart of Manila is the Walled City, better known as Intramuros to the locals. Considered one of the oldest sections of the capital, this area, covered in cobbled streets, has survived numerous bombing during World War II and showcases Spanish colonialism in Asia.
The Walled City is home to many of Manila’s historical landmarks such as forts, plazas, churches, museums, schools and ruins of old structure build during Hispanic times. The Intramuros is the only tourist attraction in Manila, showcasing old world Spanish charm. This is the old-walled city which has a massive Southwest corner bastion called the baluarte de San Diego, built on the site of the first Spanish fortress. In the southeast is the Baluarte de San Andres. The must-see historical sites inside the former Walled City includes:
• San Agustin Church: This fortified settlement was built by the Spaniards along the shores of Manila Bay. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, San Agustin church is a remnant from a time when the Augustinian Order built its headquarters in Asia, specifically in the Philippines.
• Manila Cathedral: The cathedral displays a large organ with 4,500 pipes, which originated from the Netherlands. Filipino experts consider this organ the largest in Asia. Address: Cabildo cor. Beaterio, Intramuros, Manila Phone: (632)- 527-1796; (632)-527-3093 Website: www.manilacathedral.org/ Also known as the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Manila Cathedral is also a very popular choice for wedding ceremonies. It is said that at least, one year reservation is necessary to get a wedding slot.
• Fort Santiago: Built in the 17th century, Fort Santiago provided protection between Manila Bay and the Spanish settlement of Intramuros, which literally means “within the walls.” Fort Santiago is where Jose Rizal, our national hero, was imprisoned before he was killed. Here you will see the cell he spent his last moments in and the museum houses articles of clothing and pictures of his family. For almost 400 hundred years, Fort Santiago served as the headquarters for the Spanish Military located at the mouth of Pasig River The former military headquarters of the occupying forces is now a popular attraction containing the Rajah Sulayman open-air theater The Japanese soldiers used the walled city as a place for prison camps. Prisoners included journalists, rebels, protestors of the war. Fort Santiago derived its name from Spain’s patron saint James, Slayer of Moors (Santiago Matamoros), whose wooden relief is depicted on the elaborate arch. The landmark showcases the Rizal Shrine, the memorial to the Filipino national hero. The footsteps tracing Jose Rizals’s death march glossed in bright, yellow paint. Stone stained with age and moisture bolstered the walls.
• Balay Tsinoy: a museum of the Chinese in Philippine life, presents the saga of the Chinese experience in the Philippines. With their almost life-sized dioramas, travel through the eras of Philippine history and witness the evolution of the Chinese — from merchant sailors, to migrants, to Mestizos, to ilustrados, to revolutionaries, to guerrillas, and to the contemporary Tsinoy (Chinese Filipino).
• Department of Tourism’s Museum of Philippine History: Visit the main office and see if they offer guides to walk you through the grounds. Tours can be self guided using any of the tour books about the Philippines.
• Archdiocese of Manila Museum: The Manila cathedral, which has undergone construction and reconstruction throughout the years, is the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila.
Tips on Maximizing your visit
1. Bring plenty of water.
2. Agree to a price before embarking on a calesa ride. Calesa horse rides are available throughout the grounds. Most of the horse drivers love to share information about the historical grounds.
3. Take your time – this isn’t an attraction to rush through because it is walking through a history book of wars fought in the Philippines
4. If you see a monk or priest, don’t hesitate, take the photo – it won’t happen again and these individuals do not pose for photos.
5. Street peddlers and hawkers will pickpocket your wallets if you are too friendly.
Most tourists feel they’ve walked into a place not touched by technology. Others pointed out how the site is not visited in great numbers. Most locals will talk you out of visiting Intramuros for safety reason, others say it is not really interesting because they’ve lived in these grounds for most of their lives and can’t value the historical importance.
Books related to Intramuros
A. 1st North Dakota Volunteers in the Philippines by John Durand 978-0-974-3783-3-6
B. Living in the Philippines by Philip Eano 978-1442151765
C. The Augustinian monastery of Intramuros by Isacio R. Rodriguez
D. Basques in the Philippines by Marciano R. De Borja 0-874-175-909
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