By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

IT TOOK around 10 minutes for the tram to get from the Manila Hotel to Intramuros via Bonifacio Drive. It was a warm morning on the country’s 121st Independence Day celebration and media guests were on a cultural tour from the hotel to the Walled City. First stop (among six locations): Fort Santiago.

The 64-hectare capital of the Spanish Empire in the East was protected by walls and fortifications stretching for 4.5 kilometers, hence the name “Intramuros” meaning “within the walls.”

The city was home to important offices of the state, a trade center between Europe and the East, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, and the home of the oldest universities and colleges in Asia.

In 1979, Presidential Decree No. 1616 recognized Intramuros as a “Monument to the Hispanic period of Philippine history” and established the Intramuros Administration (IA) which is focused on efforts for the city’s restoration and development.

On Independence Day, The Manila Hotel, in partnership with the Intramuros Administration, launched Visita Intramuros, a tour program focusing on the history of the 107-year-old hotel and the Walled City.

“A native has a tendency to take for granted the places which are important and are near to [you],” The Manila Hotel president Joey Lina said at the press launch at the hotel’s Roma Salon.

“It’s fun to know your history and expand your knowledge of places and events. For better world understanding and for people’s understanding of themselves, they have to go back to the past,” he added.

The project has been in the works for two years as a way “to re-establish the Filipino identity in Intramuros,” according to IA administrator Guiller B. Asido.

Visita Intramuros offers a half day tour that includes a view of The Manila Hotel’s premium rooms and followed by a trip to the Walled City. After all, the hotel did have a role to play in Philippine history.

The hotel staff first escort guests to the 330-square meter MacArthur Suite which served as the American general’s residence in the 1930s. It is decorated with rare paintings and photographs, and the general’s medals hang on a wall in what was his office. Guests are then led to the Champagne Room, a dining area well-known for its impeccable service and lavish decor. The short tour at the hotel ends at the Manila Hotel Heritage Museum, a newly opened museum that houses the collections of the hotel.

Outside the hotel the guests can choose their mode of transportation — the siklesa or a motor-drawn kalesa (carriage), an Innova van, or a Grandia van — for the tour around the Walled City. The tour makes stops at the following locations: Fort Santiago, one of the country’s oldest fortifications which built in 1571 and served as the headquarters of the Spanish and Japanese; the newly opened Museo de Intramuros at the reconstructed San Ignacio Church which houses the IA’s ecclesiastical collection; Baluarte de San Diego, the circular fort formerly called Nuestra Señora de Guia; the Destileria Limtuaco Museum, a museum focusing on the country’s oldest distillery; Bahay Tsinoy, a museum showcasing the history and influence of the Chinese in the country; and Casa Manila, a three-story lifestyle museum showcasing the life of the upper class in the 19th century.

“The Department of Tourism sees cultural tourism as one main program to attract tourists from outside to come here and serves as a key product that will allow our domestic tourist to experience our unique culture,” said Roberto Alabado III, Department of Tourism Assistant Secretary for Tourism Development Planning.

The tour package may be booked with The Manila Hotel’s concierge. Tour prices start from P2,250, with three options of either a vehicle with driver; vehicle, driver and guide; and vehicle, driver, guide and all-in pass. In-house guests may avail of a 15% discount on the tour prices.

For information, contact The Manila Hotel at 527-0011.