February must be remembered by Filipinos as a month very important in the history of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It was in February 1945 when the old, graceful and opulent city of Manila, once-fabled as the Pearl of the Orient, was reduced to rubble and ash after the Japanese and Americans reduced the city to waste for the “Liberation” of Manila.
As I remember the many stories I have heard and read about the gruesome atrocities committed to our people, I found inspiration to churn some short articles on ten places Filipinos and foreigners should visit if they want to visit our capital currently suffering a myriad of urban problems. For these series of blog entries, I chose ten different sites which testify to the colorful story of Manila, once a busy hub in Asia that had a bustling pier, a mysterious walled city that traces back its roots in the 1500s and a prosperous community well-advanced in terms of education, culture, sophistication and taste as compared to her other Southeast Asian neighbors.
- Intramuros: La ciudad insigne y siempre leal
A visit to the Old Walled City is a must for any tourist staying in the gigantic metropolis that is Metro Manila. Once the site of an ancient Tagalog Kingdom, Intramuros was chosen by the Spaniards as the capital of their vast empire’s only outpost in the Far East.
Surrounded by thick walls, Intramuros housed vast mansions, the Governor General’s and Archbishop’s palaces, grandiose state buildings as well as sprawling gardens and plazas.
It was also home to the powerful religious orders’ Mother Houses, huge monastery convents filled with veiled nuns and hooded friars, their schools, which became pioneers here as well as in Asia, their hospitals and laboratories and even herbariums. Intramuros, which was then synonymous to Manila, was the capital of the archipelago for three centuries, the site of power, pomp and mystique. Its churches boasted of the finest art pieces and décor in the Far East while the schools’ libraries were home to hundreds of books and manuscripts both from Asia and the missionary fields.
Sadly, it was the also the venue of some of the worst fighting in the last world war. The Grand Old Dame of Southeast Asia, the little Spain in Asia, made her ungraceful and bloody bow in February 1945 when the Americans bombarded Intramuros to rid it of the retreating Japanese soldiers who hid in the churches and convents mercilessly killing the remaining Spanish community of Manila. Today, one can visit the only survivor of World War II, the Augustinian friars’ San Agustín Church and Convent Museum Complex that house an excellent collection of exquisite Philippine Church ornamentations as well as important documents and books from the time of the Spanish conquest. It also has the best preserved pipe organ still in-use in Manila. The church serves as a strong testament to the beauty of what was once called Felipe II’s “distinguished ever loyal city”.
Also found within Intramuros are the reconstructed Manila Cathedral which features a crypt of all of Manila’s archbishops, Fort Santíago, once the military stronghold of the Spanish and American forces and where once the national hero, José P. Rizal, was incarcerated as well as Casa Manila, an excellent prototype of a typical bahay-na-bato that featured the beauties of Phil-Hispanic design and aesthetics. It was a project commissioned by then former First Lady Imelda Romúaldez Marcos. Also worth seeing in intramuros is the old base of the circular tower Baluarte de San Diego, the Puerta Real, a gate once used exclusively by the Governor General and now a manicured garden perfect for picture-takings, the Muralla or the peripheral walls surrounding the city and finally, the upcoming Maestranza or the restored seawall of Intramuros.
The Ayuntamiento, once dubbed as the “marble palace” because of the building’s generous use of the material, is also now seeing its hopefully glorious resurrection as the government has undertaken the effort of rebuilding it to future house the Department of Finance. It must be said that after being destroyed after the Liberation of Manila, the Ayuntamiento became a car park for forty or so years, a pitiful reminder of the country’s lack of aggressive effort in preserving and restoring the Old City.