For most of recent history, we’ve taken Manila for granted. For those of us who haven’t witnessed the city in its heyday, our knowledge of it is only as deep as the content of our history books—especially with it being the venue of the significant events that shaped our nation. Although our campus is located in Manila, you probably haven’t tried exploring other parts of the country’s capital way beyond our school’s backyard. Sure, you’ve probably been to the nearby museums along Roxas Boulevard and the National Museum, but the best place to start revisiting our history is where it all began: Intramuros.
Intramuros still has the old world European charm that brings you back to the Spanish era and the revolutionary Philippines. If you’re seeking a new adventure and have a penchant for history, look no further. Better grab your wallet (and student ID, for discounts) and get your feet ready to take a trip back in time.
The fort and the fallen
Fort Santiago is located further inside Intramuros, almost at the far end of it, near the Pasig River, so it is best to stop by this attraction first and make your way towards Intramuros’ entrance. Its thick stone walls impose themselves as the bright sun casts their shadows. Although it is packed with tourists and is currently being renovated, the haunting feeling of everything that took place there still remains.
Built in 1571, it was rebuilt a couple of times because some of the old architecture couldn’t survive the strength of attacks and earthquakes over the years. Aside from the Spaniards, the Americans also used the famed fort as the headquarters of the Philippine Division of the US Army. During the Japanese occupation, the site was used by their military to imprison, torture, and execute guerillas and civilians alike. After being destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945, it was eventually and officially turned over to the Philippine Government in 1946.
However, aside from its high rise walls that span almost the entire area, Fort Santiago is most famously known as the site where Jose Rizal was imprisoned before being executed. On the site of his cell, a two-storey museum now stands. According to the message at the entrance, this exhibit reaffirms Rizal’s significance in Philippine history.
The first display is a miscellany of the monumental events in his life. Further into the museum, an audio visual diorama of how Rizal’s execution sentence was announced will let you experience the sentiments of that courtroom. A bit of Rizal’s spine is even encased in one of the exhibits. However, the highlight of this floor would be Rizal’s exact prison cell at the far end of the hall. Visitors may come inside and take a look, and instantly feel a gush of cold air as if Rizal’s ghost had passed by.
The second floor contains the legacy he left with the Filipinos which, indeed, needed an entire floor. The exhibit on the second floor showcased Rizal’s writings (along with some of his writing materials, too), his discoveries of the skeletons of the frog and lizard he found while he was in Dapitan, and a display of different monuments and streets around the country that have been named after him.
A sign of the cross at the door
One of the biggest influences the Spaniards have left us is Catholicism. Somehow used as a weapon to conquer us peacefully, today, around 90% of the Philippine population is comprised of Catholics. Two known churches built during the Spanish era can be found inside Intramuros, both within a relatively short walking distance from each other. The one nearest Fort Santiago, down Calle Real, is the Manila Cathedral. You can’t miss it, as the muted green tint of its dome and tower can be seen from meters away. Their bell also rings every 30 minutes, so just follow the sound to lead you there.
The Manila Cathedral is an ideal location for weddings, and it’s no surprise as its interior can be mistaken for a European church. Inside, you can find a replica of the famed La Pieta and halls dedicated to past bishops and cardinals. In the colonial era, this used to be the seat of the Spanish Archbishop of Manila. Similar to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, former Archbishops of Manila who have passed on have the Cathedral’s crypts as their final resting place.
Along Calle Real, near General Luna Street, is San Agustin Church. Another famous venue for weddings (in fact, there was an ongoing wedding during our visit), as well as a UNESCO Heritage site, the church was the first European stone church built along Spanish lines in Manila. Although it was rebuilt twice after initially being constructed in 1571, the structure we see today has stood there since 1604. If you’ve got more time to spare, drop by the San Agustin Museum to see their display of paintings and artifacts.
A day in the life
Walking around Intramuros, you’d still see a hint of the Spanish architecture even though some areas have already been occupied by commercialized industries such as fast food joints and hotels. If you’ve ever wondered what it felt like to own and live in a grandiose house back in the day, Casa Manila allows you to step inside one and make you feel like a Spanish or Filipino aristocrat in the 19th century.
With its façade copied from a house made in 1850 at Calle Jaboneros in San Nicolas, visitors may only walk on the red carpeted path leading to the different rooms inside the luxurious home. Each room has a plaque describing the furniture and the usual activities going on in that specific room. Although very Instagram-worthy, taking photos aren’t allowed inside.
Outside the casa is a beautiful courtyard; it’s a prime location for weddings, debuts, and functions that usually have a vintage theme. No wonder, as the brick walls surrounding the courtyard and the cobblestone flooring instantly teleports you back to the Philippine colonial era.
A lesser known gem, hidden at the cornerstone of Daan Cabildo and Anda streets, is Bahay Tsinoy. It exhibits the Chinese community during the time of the revolution up until the present. The museum comes in multiple floors, with exhibits of different eras in Filipino-Chinese history on each floor. The museum was crafted in a seamless manner, with the halls clad with different artifacts and dioramas acting as your pathway to even more exhibits.
This museum allows its visitors to have an interaction with some of its exhibits to fully understand and appreciate its history. One of the notable attractions to be found here is the life-sized representation of the Filipino-Chinese community during the Philippine revolution. There you can see mannequins posed doing everyday activities such as selling food, cutting hair, or even selling in sari-sari stores. You can even step inside a replica of an old house on the second floor as you make your way to other exhibits. On the third floor, a mini theater is set up, further showing the close relationship between the Chinese and Filipinos. As you navigate through the museum, you’ll be surprised to know that a lot of key people in our history are actually
As it wasn’t as easy to overthrow the Spanish (as we have learned, it took 333 years to finally free ourselves from their grasp), it also isn’t easy to go about the walled city. Although contained in one gated cul-de-sac, going about would cost you money, time, and lots of energy. There are many historical sites, churches, and museums that have their respective fees, adding up to a few hundred pesos at the end of the day. Plus, some museums really do take time as they contain many walls of texts.
But fret not, it survived over 300 years, so Intramuros is here to stay as your next adventure awaits.