Warp to 16th Century Philippines: Visit Intramuros!

By Sherwin Funa, ASEAN-Korea Blog Correspondent from Philippines

I’ve built a time machine, and I am taking you with me. Off to the old times, Philippines!

Get a glimpse on what it is like during the 16th Century in the land of the Pearl of the Orient Sea or also known as the Philippines. Manila, being the capital and the center of business and trade in Philippines was once a land of colony, royalty and war. Several years ago, Manila looks far different from what it is today; busy streets, cars & busses, traffic lights & tall buildings, but I know a place that can visually illustrates the kind of life our ancestors had during the Spanish colonial period. Join me in my adventure to the past, as I explore and exploit the beauty and significance of Intramuros to Philippine history.

Intramuros is located at the heart of Manila and at the southern bound of the Pasig River. Intramuros, taken from the Latin, intra muros literally means “within the walls” that describes its structure that is covered by thick and high walls. This is considered as the oldest district in Manila, built during the Spanish colonial period in 16th century.

Before, Manila or Maynila was originally a large indianized-Malayan-Islamic settlement ruled by Rajas, Datus & Sultans. Its location is very strategic it being in the Pasig River and Manila Bay. It became a very ideal location for trade with other Asian Civilization including Chinese, Indians and other Islamic merchants.

It was in the year 1570 when the Spaniards arrived in Manila. War happened between Islamic natives and the Spaniards for the control of land and settlements. 1571, after several warfare, the natives were defeated and Spaniards ruled Manila. July 21, 1570, Manila was declared as the new Spanish Colony of Spaniards in the Philippines, headed by Lopez de Legaspi as the Governor General on the island.

Intramuros was completed in 1606, covering 64 hectares of the land, surrounded by 8 feet (2.4 meter) thick stones and high walls with 22 feet. This is in order to protect the Spanish government from other foreign invasion.

Intramuros is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Manila, to consider proximity, beauty and the story it tells. Roaming around Manila, it is hard not to notice the old walls lying at the busy city. By just the looks of it, would already tell you that what is behind is certainly history. Prior to your visit, it is best to do some research and readings, for you to understand and get a better appreciation on what you are about to witness. Visiting Intramuros is really an exercise of imagination; it is no longer as big as it was in the 16th century, for some of the walls of the walled city were surrendered as Manila turned urban. It has been restored several times, from various earthquakes as well as the damaged done during the World War II. For tourists, respective hotels within the vicinity offer a tour of the place. It is always best to be guided by the right people.

Coming to this place is like reconnecting to history, it never fails to remind me how historic and wonderful my country is. Walking while caressing the cobblestones of the walled city, and seeing its panoramic beauty is so breathtaking. You can still hear the mesmerizing sound of bells ringing from distant churches, cameras clicking left and right, laughter’s and the smell of different food being cooked from various restaurants nearby. It is always best to start the Intramuros tour by visiting the Plaza de Armas, one of the most significant place or the main square of Fort Santiago where Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal was imprisoned and killed. Plaza de Armas houses Rizal Shrine, the old dungeons for criminals used by Spanish officials, canyons used on war and battles, ruins and a lot more. It is a huge park perfect for relaxation. Recognize also the gold plated steps embedded on the ground illustrating Dr. Jose Rizal’s final footsteps before his execution in 1896.

The Plaza de Armas journey could be really tiring, you can continue your tour by riding a preserved transportation called Kalesa or Calesa (sometimes called Karitela). Introduced by the Spaniards during the 18th Century used by rich Filipinos known as illustrados as their mode of transportation during those times.  It is an inclined, two wheeled cart drawn by a horse.  Explore more of Intramuros riding the Kalesa since it is allowed to roam around the place, even at the steepest street of Fort Bonifacio.

Experience the warp to old age Philippines. Feast yourself to numerous Spanish inspired houses and establishments surrounding the place. Two-storey stone houses with capiz shell windows are very common here. There are several café and restaurant offering signature Philippine dishes, as well as antique and souvenir shops that caters native Filipino items.

One of the biggest influences of Spaniards to Philippine culture is religion. In Intramuros, one of the best attractions it showcase are the churches. There are 10 nearby house of worships you can visit, but 2 of the most popular churches you can find and you should not miss are the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. Both churches were admired by its age, its story and its visible beauty and architectural design.

Manila Cathedral or also known as Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the cathedral church of Roman catholic Archdiocese in Manila built in 1581. It went through series of renovation and incarnation. First cathedral was just a nipa and bamboo. The current structure of the cathedral was build in 1958. Despite the number of restoration and construction done, the Manila Cathedral still embodies old architectural beauty. It is dedicated to the Patroness of the Philippines; Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. A lot of weddings, funerals and burials were hosted in this church, mostly the rich, influential and known people of the state.

On the other hand, few blocks away from the Manila Cathedral is the oldest church in the Philippines still standing. No other building in the country can claim preexistence to San Agustin Church that was built 1607. Considered as World Heritage Site of the UNESCO and was named National Historical landmark of the Philippine government 1976. The design of the church was said to be derived from Agustinian churches built in Mexico. From the outside, the church might not surprise you much, but get to explore more of the interior of San Agustin Church and be fascinated with authentic paintings on walls and ceiling and magnificent wood and metal carvings.

This is truly a must see attraction in the Philippines. What is included in my story are just few of the hundred reasons why you should visit Intramuros. Reminiscing old times and honoring what before has done for the future must be preserved. Past pavements and old walls to remind us that we have rich culture and a beautiful story to tell, as a country and as people of the Philippines. Visiting Intramuros can be fun and relaxing at the same time, a good way of making use of your time without spending much.

Join me again in my next journey.

Reference: Intramuros Philippines Photos by Ashley D. Cristal www.flickr.com/adcristal

An ASEAN-Korea Entry (www.blog.aseankorea.org)

Direct Link: http://blog.aseankorea.org/archives/642?cat=11

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