Brian Dudley Visits Intramuros—The First Philippines

February 22, 2016

I never get tired of visiting this Manila landmark area, the old Spanish walled city and the first Philippines. Intramuros, the Spanish term for “within the walls,” is the first city of olden Manila where the history of the Philippines originally transpired. As the primary seat of government of then Philippines, the landmark was the country’s statehouse under the Spanish Rule.

My walk within the historic walls of the city gave me a chance to experience the place which was referred as the “Paris of the East”—the great Philippines of the yesteryears. The walk took me to the world of the past, unmasking centuries old history. Despite the changing times, the Intramuros still hold its untarnished appeal which begun as a small Filipino community to a Spanish territory to a nation’s capital and eventually the Asian prime of its time. The walls were constructed by the Spanish colonial government to act as a defense shielding the city from foreign intruders.

Occupying a 0.67-square-kilometer land area, Intramuros was originally along the Manila Bay at the south opening of the Philippines’ Pasig River. The walls of this city create a thick circuit enclosing majestic buildings as ancient as the palaces and temples of its neighboring Asian lands. These buildings hold many of the Philippines government offices and classrooms, and some are churches. Along with other institutions, these edifices formed the cornerstone of the Filipino modern society.

Spanish Manila, as it was also called before, existed for a span of more than three centuries before the American colonization in 1898. While having an initial plan to destroy its medieval state, the Americans made use of the walls and fortifications of the Intramuros by transforming them into gardens and playgrounds and filled the moat turning it into a golf course. Then World War II devastated the land in the fight to regain the city from the Japanese Imperial Army, leaving Intramuros a virtual wasteland.

As Manila developed, the remnants of the majestic Walled City deteriorated. Several groups attempted to revive its former charm in the 1950s when it was declared as a National Historical Monument but it was not until 1979 that the national government enacted a program to restore and maintain the once powerful Manila city through the formation of the Intramuros Administration which still functions up to this day with the cooperation of schools and other institutions within the district.

Inside modern day Intramuros, I saw horse-drawn carriages called calesa touring both Filipinos and foreigners. The major attractions of the city include the San Agustin Church and the Manila Cathedral. In the northwestern tip, the Fort Santiago is located which stood as the guard of the city being the former military headquarters of the Spanish administration. The Fort is also the home of the Rizal Shrine, a small museum dedicated to the life and works of the Filipino national hero. The Baluarte de San Diego, a formidable bastion surrounds what was left of the circular fort of Nuestra Señora de Guia, the first stone fort constructed in Manila, and has now become a major tourist attraction. The list of walls, gates, fortifications, plazas, monuments, public buildings, churches, museums, ruins and commercial places goes on, and each visit is a new discovery. This experience is always worth revisiting.

While the current Manila, then coined to be “extramuros” (the Spanish for “outside the walls”), the districts beyond the walls is suffering from an untoward plight, the Intramuros presents an Old Philippines vision for Manila. Perhaps, a higher hope to reclaim its former glory of the time where the manifold of culture and strong trade converge.– Brian Dudley, Makati City, Manila, Philippines

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