When the Spaniards decided to put up the capital of their newly conquered territory in Manila, they did not commit an error, in their 333 years, Manila would serve as their symbolic and powerful capital in Asia. Complete with a natural harbor protected by the mountains of Bataan in the Western side, and the mountains of the Sierra Madre on the Eastern side, Spain’s Manila was a strategic location for what would become the center of politics, education, Catholicism, and commerce not only of the Philippines but even, in some moments of history, that of entire Southeast Asia.
When el adelantado Miguel López de Legazpi waged war with the local leaders of the settlement of Manila, namely Rajah Soliman, Rajah Matanda and Rajah Lakandula, he was already insistent that Manila could be the best place they could ever put up a settlement. In 1571, Manila became Spanish territory and the work of building up the main settlement began. On 24 June 1571, Miguel López de Legazpi declared Manila as a new capital for the Spanish colony in the Far East.
The seal given to Manila features the castle of Castilla above an image of the Merlion. Yes, Manila’s Merlion was the original. Even before Singapore became associated with it, Manila was already known to have the Merlion in its official seal. Even the seals of some schools such as San Beda and the University of Sto. Tomas feature the Merlion. The Singaporeans, however, were able to successfully capitalize their Merlion and turn it into a national symbol and tourist attraction.
Manila during this time of the Spaniards would become a major port and a critical outpost of the gigantic Spanish empire, controlling the Galleon and serving as the home of missionaries, educators, businessmen and officers of the Spanish conquest. In the 333 years of Spanish Manila, Manila will become a little Europe right smack in the Pacific.
A big question though is “What Manila?” Are we referring to Metro Manila? Or are we referring to the present city of Manila.
No, we are referring to the oldest district of Manila, the same area where the settlement of Rajah Soliman was found, the area called INTRAMUROS.
What would become the colony’s political, religious, educational, military and commercial capital will be one of Asia (and Spain’s) most unique, most intriguing and most storied cities. Intramuros, which is today the most expansive walled area in Southeast Asia will become the site of magnificent palaces, grand churches, huge monastery complexes and topnotch schools that were all, unfortunately, destroyed by the Second World War.
*A more detailed entry on Intramuros will be another blog entry