Old Manila Tour
Manila is turning 445 years old this June 24. It was declared by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi as the new capital of the Spanish colony in 1571 because of its strategic location and its rich resources. The fortification of the Walled City of Manila – or Intramuros – followed immediately. Intramuros became the military, political and religious center of the Spanish Empire in Asia, and it had to be protected from constant attacks from foreign invaders and dangers from natural and man-made disasters.
Construction began in the late 16th century. When the defensive curtain was completed by the 1700s, the 0.67-square kilometers (or 67-hectare) land in the pentagonal area covered a tight grid-like system of streets and a main square surrounded by government structures, churches and educational institutions. Its walls were 8 feet (2.4 meters) thick and stood 22 feet (6.7 meters) tall. An inner moat surrounds the perimeter of the wall.
Entrance to the city was through the eight gates or puertas. Drawbridges connect the city to the outside world. They were raised and the city was closed from 11 p.m. until 4 p.m.
Life inside was pretty the same for over 300 years. It changed only when Spain lost the war to the United States in 1898 and the Philippines was sold for $20 million as part of the terms of the Treaty of Paris. The American made drastic changes on the old city.
During the Battle of Manila in 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army retreated inside Intramuros prompting the American forces to conduct heavy bombing of the Walled City. By the end of the Second World War, almost all the structures in Intramuros were destroyed except for San Agustin church.
Touring the Old Manila
Intramuros has a lot of stories to tell. There is no better way of learning about them than by going on a tour of the Walled City.
It is also possible to do a do-it-yourself tour of Intramuros. All one has to do is to download the walking map from the Internet and just follow directions.
But the most nostalgic way to tour the Walled City is by taking the horse-drawn carriages or “calesas.” The calesas was the means on transportation inside the wall during Spanish time. Today, it was brought back as part of former Tourism Secretary Dick Gordon’s “WOW Philippines” campaign.
Look for Mang Danilo Gonzales. He is the president of the Samahan ng Magkakalesa sa Intramuros (or Saksi). According to him, there are about two dozen members of Saksi. During Gordon’s time, they were given three-day training on Intramuros history, how to communicate properly in both English and Tagalog, and even how to dress properly.
The Saksi coachmen and their calesas can be found in front of Manila Cathedral. Wearing their bright yellow and green checkered camisa-chinos, they are the Walled City’s unofficial guides. A 30-minute calesa tour costs between P350 to P500 depending on the number of riders.
The tour takes visitors to most of old city’s historical landmarks.
Starting point: Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor in front of Manila Cathedral is the city’s main square. It is originally known as Plaza de Roma.
The original church was built in 1571. When the church was raised to cathedral in 1579, a new structure made from nipa, wood and bamboo was built but it was destroyed by fire. The second church made of stone was built in 1592 but it was destroyed by earthquake in 1600. All throughout history, the Manila Cathedral would be destroyed and rebuilt several times by natural disasters or by war.
During the Spanish time, the Kilometer Zero reference point was the dome of the Manila Cathedral and not the KM-0 marker in Rizal Park.
East of the plaza is the Ayuntamiento or the City Hall. Facing it is the Palacio del Gobernador, the official residence of the Governor-General. It was destroyed by the 1863 earthquake. The building was reconstructed decades ago and now houses the Commission on Elections office.
Next Stop: General Luna corner Real
General Luna Street is the old Calle Real del Palacio. It is the main street that goes straight to Cavite via Ermita, Pasay, Paranaque and Las Pinas.
There used to be eight churches inside the wall, the oldest being San Agustin (Augustinians) built in 1607. All the other six churches (San Nicolas, San Francisco, Third Venerable Order, Santo Domingo, Lourdes and San Ignacio) were all destroyed during World War II.
Miguel Lopez de Legazpi is actually buried inside San Agustin church. His tomb is located on the left side of the altar.
Next Stop: Puerta de Santa Lucia
Puerta de Santa Lucia was the western gate to Intramuros. The old moat fronting the gate was eventually covered by soil during American time. In 1907, it was converted into a golf course.
The old building on the right of Puerta was the old Ateneo School. It now belongs to a private citizen known as ECJ. ECJ stands for Eduardo Cojuanco, Junior.
On the right side of the Puerta is the Galerias de los Presidentes. The Galeria still has space for the outgoing and incoming President of the Philippines.
Next Stop: Mapua
Mapua Institute of Technology was founded in Quiapo in 1925 but it moved to Intramuros after the war. It now stands at the same location of the destroyed San Francisco church.
The oldest education institution in the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas, started in Intramuros in 1611. In 1927, because of its growing student population, it transferred to Espana, Manila, its current location.
The Colegio de San Juan de Letran founded in 1620 remains on the same spot for almost 400 years.
Lyceum of the Philippines University, founded by the Laurel family, recently built a hotel inside the Walled City. The hotel is called Bay Leaf or laurel in English.
The San Nicolas de Tolentino church was the home of the Augustinian Recollects since 1608. During the war, the Recollects were driven out of the church by the Japanese forces and made it into garrison and an armory. The church was destroyed by heavy artillery during the Battle of Manila. Many Japanese soldiers died inside the church. In 1975, Manila Bulletin bought the property and built its office at the same spot of the old church.
Last Stop: Fort Santiago
Fort Santiago is the former military headquarters of the Spanish colonial government. Dr. Jose Rizal was imprisoned there prior to his execution on December 30, 1896.
Rizal’s execution signaled the beginning of the end of the Spanish regime in the Philippines, and the opening of Intramuros.