History of Manila in brief

Manila War Memorial

The city of Manila is the Philippine capital, and is also among 16 cities which comprise the entire Metro Manila area. Today, it is one of the most populous cities in the world. Manila’s location played an important role in its long history of battles, trade, colonisation and current status as a cosmopolitan Filipino metropolis.

Manila was already a city even before the Spanish era; it was then known as Gintu (gold) by its neighbouring kingdoms. Back then, Manila enjoyed a period of growth because of flourishing trade relations with China through the Pasig River, which extends to the Manila Bay. Back then, the city was a fortified area on the riverbanks of the Pasig just above older towns.

At that time, Tondo was its capital and the rulers of the empire were considered equivalent to Kings. The area was mostly inhabited by Muslims and Chinese traders who decided to settle in the island. The Kingdom of Manila’s golden years occurred during the later part of the Ming Dynasty because of the boom in trade relations.

Around 1485 until 1521, when Sultan Bolkiah ruled, the Brunei Sultanate interrupted the monopoly of Tondo by China by attacking it and then establishing its own state of Selurong, which is now known as Manila. It served as the satellite state of Brunei. A new leader led this fresh dynasty and further strengthened the religion of Islam especially when traders arrived from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Enter Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1571. As part of his mission to conquer the islands for Spain, Legazpi defeated Rajah Sulayman, the then ruler of Manila. Afterwards, he built Intramuros.

Intramuros was meant to be a place exclusively for Spaniards. Its name means “within the walls” because of its fortified nature, and natives of the city had to live elsewhere. After the British tried to take over Manila, the Spaniards realised that their walled city is not as invincible as they thought, so they moved outside Intramuros and the seat of government was moved to Malacañang. Over time, Intramuros was to become one of the most significant sites in the history of Manila.

The Spanish ruled Manila for more than 300 years before the Americans arrived to take over the city in 1898. Under the American government, Manila was redesigned by Daniel Burnham whose project was referred to as the “Burnham Plan.” Its mission was to turn Manila into a “Paris on the Prairie” with its government centre stretching throughout Wallace Field on Luneta until Taft Avenue. It was also the Americans who established a civil government in Manila on July 1901. Until 1903, there was a Philippine-American war, which caused the death of several people in Manila and everywhere else in the Philippines. Finally in 1935, the American government granted independence to Manila.

On December 24, 1941, all American units and their military installations left Manila, and it was also the same day when the city was declared an “Open City” in hopes that it could be spared from destruction and death. But the Japanese still bombed Manila with their war planes, giving the city its first air raid. A decree to widen the safety zones was provided by Quezon even on the outlying areas of the city, which established Greater Manila. The Japanese army eventually found its way to the city of Manila on January 2, 1942.

Manila became a battleground during the Second World War and over 100,000 civilians lost their lives. To spare it from total destruction, General MacArthur decided to move to Corregidor. When the war ended, Manila became a dead city as bombs reduced the walls and buildings into rubble and ashes, making the city among the worst damaged capitals in the world during the war. In fact, the degree of Manila’s destruction is second only to Warsaw, Poland.

It took a long time before Manila finally managed to pick up the pieces and spring back to life. For years, it was a great wasteland inhabited by squatters. The restorations started in the early seventies with the Manila Cathedral, the rest of Intramuros, the Governor’s Palace, and the rest of the city reconstructed. In 1975, Metropolitan Manila became an independent entity with its own local laws in effect.

From there, several projects were implemented in order to bring back the lost glory of Manila.  Manila’s “Golden Age” occurred during Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson’s time from 1952 to 1962 when the city’s local government worked on urban renewal projects to renovate the buildings that are part of the history of Manila, pave the roads and make the city the beautiful capital it once was before the Second World War.

From 1972 to 1981, the entire Philippines was under Martial Law, which President Ferdinand Marcos implemented. Towards the end of Marcos’ rule, the economy disintegrated. Marcos’ regime began to see its last days when opposition leader Benigno Aquino arrived at the Manila International Airport from the United States on August 21, 1983, and was assassinated as he disembarked from his plane. The event fuelled the anger of Filipinos, causing the first ever bloodless revolution in the world – the 1986 EDSA revolution (so called because the revolution was held in the middle of the EDSA stretch, the longest and most important highway in Metro Manila). The revolution ended the Marcos rule.

From then onwards, Manila continued to develop into a city appropriate for living, education, and business. Today, Manila is one of the most interesting cities in the Philippine Islands and home to a variety of notable attractions and entertainment options for travellers. The city government seeks to breathe new life to its old roads and structures while still maintaining the rich culture shaped from its colourful history.