Walking through history

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Walking through history
The Facade and the concentric rings of Baluarte de San Diego.

Text and photos by
Zsarlene B. Chua Reporter

MANILA, the Philippine capital, might have been left behind by other burgeoning cities in the metropolitan area but it is not a city without charms as a considerable amount of the country’s heritage still rests within its borders and none is more prominent than the walled city of Intramuros.

Upon the invitation of Waterfront Manila Pavilion Resort and Casino, a more than 300-room hotel casino located a literal stone’s throw away from Rizal Park and Intramuros, the media were toured around few of the more than century-old attractions within the former seat of power during the Spanish colonial period.

Of course, what is a visit to Intramuros without walking inside the 410-year-old San Agustin Church? The UNESCO World Heritage site and National Historical landmark is one of the most beautiful churches in the country, with its trompe l’oeil ceiling painted by two Italian artists, its baroque pulpit shaped like a pineapple, and the grand pipe organ.

But beyond the main church, one should also spend a few hours touring the monastery-turned-museum. The long, wide hallways surrounding the church’s courtyard connect a series of rooms housing exhibits highlight the church’s history — one of the rooms displays the few vestments which survived the looting of the church by British troops during the English occupation of Manila (and Cavite) from 1762-1764.

Another landmark in Intramuros and a school excursion favorite is Fort Santiago. Built by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi (whose body is interred inside the San Agustin Church) in 1571, the fort was also the prison which held the country’s national hero Jose Protacio Rizal before his execution in 1896. Within the walls of the fort is a shrine and museum containing Rizalist memorabilia from during his incarceration.

Fronting the fort is Plaza Moriones (not to be confused with the park of the same name located in Tondo, Manila). Starting in the 1990s, the plaza, designed by landscape architect Dolly Plaza, resembled a tropical garden with palm trees and other greenery. Last year, the Intramuros administration decided to renovate the park, replacing the greenery with granite paving and plant boxes, a move which infuriated well-known tour guide and cultural worker Carlos Celdran.

Because Intramuros was the seat of power during the Spanish colonial period, it contains within its walls several forts meant to secure the city from other invaders and one of these was Baluarte de San Diego.

Walking through history
One of the many halls of the San Agustin Church museum.

Built from 1587-1596 by Jesuit priest Antonio Sedeno, the fort contains three concentric structures, the inner two circles having terracotta finishes supposedly for waterproofing as it housed a foundry in the 18th century.

The Baluarte began as a circular fort called Nuestra Señora de Guia, and then was renovated in 1593 upon the orders of Governor General Gomez Perez Dasmariñas to join the walls of the city.

Across the San Agustin Church stands Casa Manila. Designed by Ramon Faustmann, the museum is said to be a replica of the 19th century house of Binondo merchant Don Severino Mendoza.

Walking through history
Facade of Fort Santiago

The three-story structure is decked out in the manner of a typical ilustrado (the educated Filipino class) home, including the bedrooms and living room sporting European furnitute, the toilets, and a prayer room. But what sets this museum apart from other houses during the period is the ice box in the kitchen as ice was a luxury during the era — it was, after all, imported all the way from Boston.

All four sites are quite near each other so if one has an afternoon — or morning because afternoons can be unforgivingly hot — to spare, it would be nice to walk around Intramuros, a testament to the country’s long colonial history.